Misfortune of being a Tamil in HINDIA.

 

One of the most divisive issues in the independent India was the Language policy. The constituent assembly was split wide open and spirited and passionate debates ensued. But what lingers in my mind today is that one statement by RV Dhulekar on the second day – literally the second day of constituent assembly (translated from Hindi) – “People who do not know Hindustani have no right to stay in India. People who are present in this House to fashion out a constitution for India and do not know Hindustani are not worthy to be members of this Assembly. They had better leave.” (http://parliamentofindia.nic.in/ls/debates/vol1p2.htm)

From there, we moved to Seth Govind Das, one of the supporters of Hindi as national language said during constituent assembly debates: “Our country is one of the six oldest countries of the world, which are India’ China, Egypt, Greece, Babylon and Mesopotamia,” and continued to conclude, “Only India is one of those six ancient countries where the tradition of its ancient culture and civilisation can be seen in a very field of life.” (http://parliamentofindia.nic.in/ls/debates/vol11p4.htm)

To cut it short, moral of the story from those debates is this – for the benefit of India, we, Tamils and rest of non-Hindi speaking population had made a compromise – in language, one of the most important element in any civilization. Other states in India have more or less unofficially learnt Hindi but we in Tamil Nadu, didn’t. India, is a fine amalgamation of diverse and divergent things – languages, customs, history, religions, festivals, mythologies and more importantly, diverse people. Let us take this one for the team – Team being India.

We formed ‘the’ Union, not ‘a’ Union, for the mutual benefit of all who inhabit this land. But where has it taken us from that compromise?

Fast forward to 1970s, India handed over a piece of land, historically of Tamils to Sri Lanka, not because of goodwill or genuine concern or historical right but to placate Sri Lanka against the growing influence of a superpower in our backyard. Let us take this one as well for the team.

From then on, there is no official count on the number of fishermen who have been killed by Sri Lanka on sea. Why should a country accept this? It was the American bogey in the cold war and now, it’s the Chinese bogey. Tamils, literally have paid in blood and land to keep rest of India safe. Every state has contributed to Indian military, but Tamil Nadu has a distinction of contributing civilian lives, with rest of India not caring, not bothering and not even aware of this. This one is for the team as well.

I have said this in the past and I am right – we are ready to share waters without any issue with an enemy nation but not with our own brothers and sisters. The issue of Cauvery river has not died and will not die in the near future. Some may view this from a nationalistic perspective and get agitated and call me names. It doesn’t matter. Fact, yes, fact remains that Indus Water Treaty stands test of time and wars, whereas, we, citizens of same nation with common future and shared prosperity cannot come to an agreement. Remember, only Tamils were and are portrayed as villains in the entire saga. The national parties have no base in Tamil Nadu and they vie for power in Karnataka. So, for the benefit of someone’s power play, we are cast aside. The central government has not agreed to the supreme court order in forming Cauvery Water Management Board, with some weird and nonsensical logic. This one for the team?

In a power starved state, we constructed Kudankulam, much against the wish of many of the people living around the plant. Now, what did we get in return? Not all power is for TN. It has to be shared. Now, look at the logic. Its contradictory between what was applied for water and power. We underwrite the risk 100% but the return is not for us. If that be the case, why should we underwrite the risk? We can be a consumer of power where the risk is present in other states. If people say that the technology and money has come from Government of India, feel free to close this and place it somewhere (its called as Skin in the Game by NN Taleb). Let’s see if you can do it with other population. There is a Jaitapur test case which will prove this point. So we took this one for the team as well.

Historically, people in the world are connected, by blood. There cannot be a more provable and historic connection than what the Tamils in India share with Tamils in Sri Lanka. Without going into the political situation, India has let down Tamils in Sri Lanka. The Tamils who cross the Palk Strait and come to Tamil Nadu are refugees and are not provided citizenship. Cut to 2016, the government of India wants to provide citizenship based on Religion. So a Tamil from Sri Lanka is a refuge or illegal immigrant but a Hindu from Bangladesh is not. In what way are our blood cheap? Are we not worthy of being accorded the same rights as the rest of the nation? If nation is collection of people, are we aliens? On what basis shall we swallow our pride and take this one for the team?

Now, lets come to the bull in our midst. The supreme court banned Jallikattu on the basis of animal cruelty. Some have compared this to halal meat, non-vegetarian or biriyani in Bakrid. All these are false equivalence where the animals are killed whereas in Jallikattu, animals are not. The most apt comparison, in my mind, is horse race. What is the purpose of riding crop in a jockey’s hand? Isn’t it to tap and to hit? So isnt that cruelty? If that is the case, then which cruelty is less and which is more? Who is to judge? Ironically, Supreme Court stated that horse racing is not animal cruelty! (http://www.thehindu.com/…/Horse-racing-…/article16765154.ece)

As I see it – we compromised on our language status, we gave our land to another country, allow our civilians to spill blood, beg for water, underwrite risks without any return, let our fellow Tamil brothers and sisters die and now should we allow our custom to be dead?

P.S.: It is not to say other states haven’t sacrificed or lost. Our North Eastern brethren suffer a lot, which is humiliating. This is how I, as a Tamil see it. Others are free to express their displeasure as well.

Case Against Demonetisation

 

India - Coin

India – Coin

This is a low hanging fruit. Someone must have written it already and not having one shows the depth (or shallowness) of discourse. It took a Forbes to call this immoral, whereas, we were even unable to articulate why this is immoral. Taking only from poor is not immoral but taking from rich as well is immoral.

There is no economic study published by the government for us to dispute; for all we heard was homilies on black money, counterfeits and terror financing. These are motherhood statements which no one can or will dispute but there is no economic case which proves or disproves such homilies. Even the newest fad of cashless or less-cash has no economic study but only conjectures presented as facts.

Next comes the question of morality of government taking away our cash. This is where it gets interesting and this is the issue we must address, because herein lies the true nature of our rights (not legal but given by nature), nature of government and our relationship with government.

Guided by thinkers, who are immortal, a case against demonetization is presented.

First question: does the government have the right to take away our property?

Before we answer this, we must understand why men come together, form a society and allow a government to make laws?

Government’s “great and chief end, therefore, of men uniting into commonwealths, and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of their property; to which in the state of Nature there are many things wanting.” Note that it is preservation of property, not public property and not common property only, but chief of all is the personal property. Allowing a government to subjugate us itself is an inconvenience which at times turn to hardships because, we wilfully limit our personal freedom, which is the true state of our nature. “The inconveniencies that they are therein exposed…. therein seek the preservation of their property.” We bear this inconvenience for our own benefit, chief among these is the protection of our personal property from the encroachment of others. That is why laws are made.

The natural right of a man is of life, liberty and property. It is this aspect, that the move of demonetisation has attacked, thus attacking our principal right, which no constitution need give not grant us explicitly, but inherently present in the laws of nature. “For the law of Nature being unwritten, and so nowhere to be found but in the minds of men.”

Supporters of this move, hide behind the legality of it whereas the issue is not just with the legality under current laws but the morality under the laws of nature. How is a property acquired? A property is acquired through a person’s labour. It is his unquestionable right to exploit his property the way that he sees fit. For once, let us assume that government has been empowered to enact laws. But what kind of laws can it enact? Is there any boundary to the legislative power? “Though the legislative, whether placed in one or more, whether it be always in being or only by intervals, though it be the supreme power in every commonwealth, yet, first, it is not, nor can possibly be, absolutely arbitrary over the lives and fortunes of the people.” Furthermore, and this is important, “nobody has an absolute arbitrary power over himself, or over any other, to destroy his own life, or take away the life or property of another.” There is nothing legal in the order of nature which strips our property.

Now, comes the question of cash in bank. Is it a fundamental duty of every citizen to be part of a banking system? Afterall, what is banking? It is true that we need to pay taxes but shouldn’t we be allowed to stay away from banking, if need be? If thus, banking is not mandatory and I, as a citizen has paid all my taxes, why can’t I exchange my hard earned money, which is nothing but fruit of my labour and instead deposit in a bank? In which agreed law, have we accepted banking to be mandatory? If there is no acceptable law which makes banking mandatory, then what does this move does to people who have stayed away from banking? Or deliberately want to stay away from banking?

It may be argued that our money is safe in banks, thus, it is not snatched away from us. But what is the use of money, if I cannot exploit it in a way I want it? What is the use of money if access to it is curbed by digital locks which cannot be breached? What is the use of money which cannot be transacted in a way I want?

Remember this. Government doesn’t own our money. It has usurped it by fallacious acts of parliaments. Government doesn’t own our land. It has usurped it by fallacious acts of parliaments. Remember, “the supreme power cannot take from any man any part of his property without his own consent.” Have we consented to this? Examples in the past and in various parts of the world do not contribute as logical arguments. A classic whatabouttery has to be avoided. Also government, “however it may have power to make laws for the regulating of property between the subjects one amongst another, yet can never have a power to take to themselves the whole, or any part of the subjects’ property, without their own consent; for this would be in effect to leave them no property at all.”

Government may have the right to withdraw a bill it has issued but not take away our property which, with a trust we held in those bills. Even if it is done, there has to be a laid down practice and not an arbitrary and vulgar display of power, which comes across as sadistic. What is taking away our property, if it is not sadistic? We gave our legislature to make laws to protect our property and not take away ours. Is it not prophetic that someone stated, “Whereas by supposing they have given up themselves to the absolute arbitrary power and will of a legislator, they have disarmed themselves, and armed him to make a prey of them when he pleases” more than four centuries ago? This arbitrary power is dangerous. Today, it can be money in the form of cash, tomorrow, the cash transaction can be penalised and the day after, it can be the total stock of gold or any asset that we can hold. If a seizure by a dikkat is possible, what is not?

And that is why “the ruling power ought to govern by declared and received laws, and not by extemporary dictates and undetermined resolutions, for then mankind will be in a far worse condition than in the state of Nature if they shall have armed one or a few men with the joint power of a multitude, to force them to obey at pleasure the exorbitant and unlimited decrees of their sudden thoughts, or unrestrained, and till that moment, unknown wills, without having any measures set down which may guide and justify their actions.” Dissect the above sentence.

Have we been given any rationale but motherhood statements? Have we been provided with any studies to justify the action? If the answer is none, then why should we submit to the whims and sudden wills of someone? We are told that this was not a sudden thought. Well, lets us take it in its face value. If it’s not the sudden thought, where is the study which weighed pros and cons, positives and negatives, benefits and cost and how did the government come to the conclusion that benefits outweigh the costs? Do we know? Is it a national secret that it cannot be revealed? The monetary authority is mum, the finance ministry is mum and the first among equal is on a tangential plane. If we are to justify “how did we earn so much money,” then for sure, the government is duty bound to explain “how it did arrive that removing some bills is good for the economy.”

We shouldn’t expect; for we are in an era of incompetence and mediocrity masquerading as efficiency and goodness; for we take the cowardice of opaqueness to the boldness of transparency; for we take the application of arbitrary power as application of reason; for we are confused with executive edict as law of the land. By not publishing the studies which led to this decision, the monetary authority, Reserve Bank of India, to whom we surrendered money making, committed suicide. The suicide of a coward. (‘An Obituary to Reserve Bank of India’ is currently in progress). I digress. This is a case against the move, not the proponents of the move.

The most obvious answer to everything will be “public good.” What is now, public good? We will come to that in a bit. Now imagine I own a property. If that property can be taken away from me without my consent, can I actually call that I own that property? How do I own if I cannot protect it? For I have truly no property in that which another can by right take from me when he pleases against my consent. Hence it is a mistake to think that the supreme or legislative power of any commonwealth can do what it will, and dispose of the estates of the subject arbitrarily, or take any part of them at pleasure.

Now, coming back to public good. This arbitrary enforcement of a will, is what is called a prerogative, for there has been no law that is promulgated. It is right that the executive has the prerogative, but only for public good. But how do we agree or understand that it is for the public good? If everyone is negatively affected in a society, then what good can it be of? But prerogative cannot override our primary laws of nature which protects our property. Anything contrary is immoral in the agreement between man and government and indefensible against laws of nature.

It will be wise to remember “That the reigns of good princes have been always most dangerous to the liberties of their people.”

Looked from any angle, any perspective, any antecedents, any argument, this exercise, even if it bestows the public with economic good, is never a moral right; for our property is legitimately ours and no power on earth has the right to take away without our consent.

Case for Demonetisation

Government

 

It is going to be fifty long days soon and I am yet to come across a case for demonetisation which makes not an economic one, because we do not know the economic impact of this move, but a moral and/or ethical case. People who proposed, legally RBI, didn’t present the citizenry an economic case and hence we can safely assume that there is hardly any concrete evidence, let alone a major study, if presented, is worthy of a doctorate suggesting purported positives of said scheme.

“For the law of Nature being unwritten, and so nowhere to be found but in the minds of men.” And hence (or unknowingly), the government has attempted to make a moral case right from day one but it’s apparent that it’s pitting the poor against the rich, a very subtle but sure direction. It has many who are outraged, can scream, shout and mock, but not many who can present logic, either real or abstract.  What we are presented are “perceived benefits” or “probabilities as certainties” which will accrue in the long term. And let us be honest, no one can predict economic long term. Any society which outrages against rightly acquired wealth, is a dangerous society. When the government takes away our freedom, in this case, the freedom to use cash as we deem fit, it has to make a case such that it convinces even scotch drinking, cigar smoking, business class flying socialists.

Here is an attempt.

Arguments presented here are liberally borrowed, inferred and adapted from Thomas Carlyle’s French Revolution and John Locke’s Two Treatises on Government. A case against this move will also be presented later, again derived from same sources.

First question: does the government have the right to take away our property?

The primary duty of any government is to govern. It has myriads of issues to address to maintain a just society. There are other two related and implied responsibilities of governments. They are to ‘guide’ and if need be, ‘compel.’ In an age of information and super speciality, we may wonder why or how government can guide us. If the past is of any indication, we have, at various times been guided by government. It is true, with different governments, the direction of guidance varies and this is precisely the reason why governments are elected by a majority based on a broad ideology and proposed policies. The society entrusts with the government the power to rule over them. Then, the most controversial aspect of the government is to ‘compel.’ How can any elected government compel men, who by nature, are free willed and have just agreed to submit to the government? Because, “their (government) power in the utmost bounds of it is limited to the public good of the society.” It is limited but is nevertheless well within the realms of public good boundary. Given this, if ‘consent of the governed’ is the principle which we apply to anyone who govern us, then demonetisation is well within the right of the government.

While the right to property is paramount and one of the fundamental rights of the nature, it cannot be a garb under which we allow an injustice to prevail, an injustice, where, accumulation of ill-gotten wealth threatens a just society. Nature has for all that we need. The money, which doesn’t perish is one’s private property arising out of one’s labour, which is as sacred as one’s life. But this property cannot be an ill-gotten one and cannot create inequality in a society. The government is duty bound to respond to such hoarding, which affects a large section of society adversely, while benefiting handful.

As Locke thunders “that neither the sergeant that could command a soldier to march up to the mouth of a cannon, or stand in a breach where he is almost sure to perish, can command that soldier to give him one penny of his money; nor the general that can condemn him to death for deserting his post, or not obeying the most desperate orders, cannot yet with all his absolute power of life and death dispose of one farthing of that soldier’s estate.” It is well understood that there is no absolute power vested with the government which will dispossess a man of his property. But what causes such an extreme measure? It must be understood that “These laws also ought to be designed for no other end ultimately but the good of the people.” What are the use of laws in books, if those cannot be implemented for the good of people? What are the uses of Tax laws if those who cheat, do so with impunity? What are the uses of laws which cannot prohibit, detect and punish hoarding of resources, which must be put in use for common good? What are the use of laws when justice delivery takes a generation and makes justice a cruel joke?

Thus, the government, though may not have explicit power to take away the property for any reason, has the right to take away the property for public good.

Second question: Was the government right in taking away our property?

If someone has a right to exercise something, does it mean that it is right in exercising it?

The oversimplification comparison that we can do is “the government has the right to declare war. Should it actually do it?” Yes, this move is war. When there is a trespass on personal property, even by an elected government, its war. There are reasons for this war. One of the ends of government is to preserve as much as possible, not all and never all. The government is fully aware that “…many accidents may happen wherein a strict and rigid observation of the laws may do harm.” But the “power to act according to discretion for the public good, without the prescription of the law and sometimes even against it, is that which is called prerogative.” And public good is what this move will entail and public good is what has caused this move.

It must be noted that what the government has done here is to order its honest citizens to park their property, in certain form as money bills, in a bank with certain limitations to its access and thus its exploitation. This control is for a limited time, not decided how long now but will not be forever. What are we to do when we acknowledge perpetually that there will be hoarding of property of men of means and men who are corrupt and game the system with their contacts and power? Should the government stand aside and let such atrocities continue? Shouldn’t the government protect because of the power that is vested in it by the community?

Also, why do we live in a community if we cherish so much of personal liberty? And why should there be a community? Isn’t it indisputable that “The great and chief end, therefore, of men uniting into commonwealths, and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of their property; to which in the state of Nature there are many things wanting.” Is our property being preserved now? Aren’t our properties taken away, swindled and we are left with either no public asset or with public assets of less quality? The silent and invisible taking away of our property by corrupt is not equivalent to the what is ordered now with temporary restrictions to only money in the form of cash.

“They who by any injustice offended will seldom fail where they are able by force to make good their injustice.” The government, offended by the injustice which has been happening for long, is doing good and attempting to reverse that injustice.

There is a question of “why now” that must be answered. There is never a good or a bad time for such an exercise. But if this has to be justified, let it be this. There will be chaos. There will be commotion. There will be internal strife. The public opinion will be split; for we are encroaching on personal property. This is the weakest time of our union. And we seek to do this in a winter when we are provided with natural snow barrier in our north and west, devoid of any external interference.

What is being sought by this move is to come clear, for once, just for once, so that we know most of us are clear in conscience. We do not say that this will end all injustices in the future, nor do we claim that this will make good all the injustices of the past. This is an attempt, an earnest attempt to do both the above, to start from a fresh slate, from a clean state.

This is an attempt in hope; for hope is still alive, it is not extinguished and it is inextinguishable!

Thoughts on Cashless Economy

Cash

Cash

 

Thomas More, in his classic thought of a society where there was no money, where there was no private property, which would eliminate all reasons for bribery and a just and equal society. Utopia was published in early 16th Century, to be precise, published in 1516, five hundred years before 2016.

If this was a book on just and equal society, there was another novel, written by George Orwell, in 1949, titled Nineteen Eighty Four. A seminal work, which holds true even in Snowden and Wikileaks era! In that, the Party controls people’s life – including history and language. (If you are reminded of something, I am not to be blamed. Blame Orwell)

Evolution of money:

It’s a common knowledge that people exchanged one good for the other – barter. It evolved into something else where commodities were used as money. We have instances of salt, rice, barley, cattle, leather as medium of exchange. That means, you can buy many things with salt, rice etc. We then moved to metals, famous of which being Gold and Silver. From there we moved on to coinage in various parts of then developed world – China and India. The first paper notes were issued in China and from there we are here with what is known as “fiat money,” meaning, our money is not backed by anything. It’s a trust and promise.

From there, the latest evolution is what many colloquially know as Bitcon, generically called as crypto currency.

What this evolution tells us is that, no one can stop a technology (or an idea like Victo Hugo said) whose time has come. Also, no one can stop the evolution in money. Every stage of evolution of money has been led by a major theme – utility. In this context, the technology driven crypto currency or digital form of present day cash is just an extrapolation of that idea of utility. The Royal Mint in the United Kingdom will offer its Gold trade using block chain technology which is the basis of Bitcoin. This is the quintessential merger of last millennium meeting this.

Note: India after Demonetisation has moved the goalpost to become cashless (or less cash) economy. This must not be confused with crypto currency because this is not what the government is talking about. Also, this is not the first step in moving to crypto currency, because, you don’t need this step. The government is using all its energy to promote this idea of cashless economy and hence will come up with all the positives of this form, which is real and must be considered with open mind.

The other side of the coin:

With the risk of being called a corrupt, black money hoarding, anti-national, here are some thoughts on negative risks of digital cash.

It must be understood that what our government calls as ‘cashless’ or ‘less cash’ is nothing but porting our cash in digital form through:

  1. Internet (or Mobile) Banking – full fledged digital banking operations
  2. Payment Banks – a new concept promoted by RBI with limited utility
  3. Payment Wallets – short of Payment Banks

 

Freedom of choice:

Perhaps the most important argument to be placed against government sponsored push of ‘a’ form / ‘a’ medium of currency over the rest is our freedom of choice. Forget the platitudes of backing of constitution for this. What is to be understood is our inherent right to choose what we call as money. Remember, we, as species had used salt as money. We have already surrendered to the government the right to create money, without any backing. The papers that we carry, are worth nothing but the value we attribute it with. Now, are we going to let the government tell us in which medium, must it be used? If someone asks me “why do I need to spend as physical money,” the answer is always “because I want to.”

There is an inherent hypocrisy in this. The ‘anti-cash’ movement presents this as a great leap which will help the nation in the long run. Now here is the irony. Most of them express their overnight economic competency from a Chinese manufactured phone or laptop. India runs close to $48 Billion trade deficit in the previous fiscal and its nobody’s guess that most of it are in electronics. Now, if my choice of using Indian Currency in paper form is detrimental (without any proof) to nation, how does using imported phones a patriotic act? Now, who decides which freedom is more important?

Think.

Security:

Between “my twitter hacked, hence digital is bad” and “banks are perfectly safe,” lie the truth. The truth is banking is safer than many other transactions. It’s a comparative. Not the superlative. The ugly truth is that India doesn’t have any demonstrable defences or offenses against sophisticated attacks. In adoption of any technology, bad boys conquer first. And bad boys show off their prowess. Israel, China, Russia, USA and North Korea are in this league, not us. Computerweekly, as early as 2012, published an article on the security lapses in major banking websites. In 2016, 32 lakh debit cards were compromised. It is true that we do not stop travel because there are accidents on roads. But, lets be sure of the risks and use protective measures. Before we punish, yes, punish people to go digital, we must strengthen our defences.

A BJP MP is sure on not allowing private banks in GST Network. The reason stated is that the trade data will be available to their foreign partner. Now, how come our financial data, not just available but can be manipulated be acceptable?

State control:

Just imagine the state control that we currently have. All our hard earned money is in the bank. We have to stand like beggars (or proud nationalists like me) in a queue with a ration limit per day and per week, to access our own money. Now, remember, this control is possible because deposits have become digital. What if we go fully cash less? Don’t you think that the state can block our accounts (already blocked many accounts even now under the garb of suspicion)? If someone says that no government cannot do that, remember, in the same land, our precious freedom was curbed. And even now, our access to cash is curbed. So never say never.

Cost of physical cash vs digital:

Another reason being quoted to go digital is to reduce the cost of printing physical cash. Let’s do a calculation. If, by this exercise the government reduces 5Lac Crore in physical cash and move to digital what will happen? Under UPI, the cost of digital transactions is pegged around 45 paise per transaction. If each transaction on an average is Rs 1000, then the total per year cost will be Rs 225 crore. Now, this is just the least and conservation estimate. And we are assuming that we will transact 1000 only once a year. Now you can do the simple multiplication. We do not know how much will it cost in other networks. As and when the number of transactions increases, the cost of digital increases, not for the physical one.

Privacy:

Every transaction is a row in a database and personally, I do not want to be in that list many times, exposing my spending habit. For someone who had read Pavlov and see his theory being applied by all corporations, it’s a nightmare to expose our entire transactions to corporations and not knowing how it can be manipulated. It’s a personal choice and caution is advised.

Dispute resolution:

For all digital transactions, from Amazon to Airtel, how many times have we called customer service with an issue? There are instances where a credit card payment doesn’t reflect on time because of a technical glitch and we are penalized in the next statement. If we go digital, we need a law, system and processes for perfect dispute redressal. Remember, this must be accessible to the illiterate as well because, we expect them to use as well. Losing Rs.100 in a transaction may not be important for us, but for a daily wage labourer earning 400, that is a big amount.

There are other problems as well. For example, the recent natural disaster in Chennai has shown the limitations of current digital network. There is a convenience of cash. But from room sized machine to iPhone, we have come a long way in technology and all these technical hurdles will be shattered. But when we do (not if we do), we must choose what is right for us and what we want, not what we are forced with.

Digital cannot be a destination because some moron’s calculation went wrong. It has to be a journey which should not and cannot be forced with current infrastructure (physical and otherwise), knowledge and literacy.

So, after five centuries of Utopia, we are still struggling to build a society will will eliminate all evils and will pave way for an egalitarian society.

 

Jayalalithaa – an Indian Woman’s role model

Amma

Amma

How to summarize a life, that too the life of a public figure, the life which resembles more of a sine curve, the life which has many dimensions, each requiring its own compendium! It is difficult to chronicle in one book, let alone in couple of pages.

It is only fair to quote a line misattributed to George Bernard Shaw to show respect to a well read, eloquent and erudite person.

“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”

Such a remarkable person’s life can be portrayed as a fine actor or a shrewd politician or an able administrator or a visionary Chief Minister.

The significance of her achievements is not small. In the contemporary Tamil Cinema, imagine how English speaking women are portrayed, especially the heroines. Sub-nationalism in Tamil Nadu had been prevalent and still is admired by many. Tamil pride has been one of the major themes of the Dravidian movement. Now, here comes a convent educated, tip-of-the-tongue English speaking actor, embarking her political journey.

Look through this prism and her achievements are monumental. Take this prism off and her achievements are still monumental.

As the ruler of my state for many years, the major theme of her life has been “welfare” – Welfare of the the people or welfare of her subjects. To many, she was the Empress. In “The Republic,” Plato argues that countries must be ruled by Philosopher Kings. Some criticise this because its against democracy. In Jayalalithaa, we have had the best of both worlds – a person who deeply believed in democratic ethos and possessed all attributes that a philosopher will posses towards the welfare of the people and of the state.

One of the major schemes which has saved and continues to save countless lives has been Cradle Baby scheme. Female infanticide in India is not new and Tamil Nadu was no exception. A simple scheme where mothers can hand over their infants has provided many with a fair chance in life. The scheme which was started in 1992 is 24 years old. All who were saved by this scheme owe it to JJ. People who do not know Tamil Politics or Tamil Nadu should not wonder why millions call her ‘Amma.’ What do you call a person who saves lives? To the children who were protected and given an opportunity in life, she most certainly is.

In the middle of her political career she brought a controversial “Anti Forcible Conversion Scheme” which led some minorities to believe she may not be neutral. But alas, she was the one who fought for the rights of Scheduled Castes of other religions. For Dravidian politics, social justice is paramount and her continuous efforts towards this beginning with 69% reservation in education and various other schemes ensure, to a large extent, that Tamil Nadu has better indicators than many large states in India. The legacy of Dravidian movement was preserved, followed and expanded by her action, which sprung from her belief in social justice.

Freebies:

Some may wonder what many freebies had achieved in Tamil Nadu. Many in the right of economic spectrum had and continues to pejoratively call it as dole.

A scheme, where cycle was provided to girl children initially was expanded to cover many students in the state. Why should this be done? Well, if you want to increase the Gross Enrolment Ratio of students, you cannot ask them to walk miles in parching sun. Macro headline numbers are achieved by micro planning and diligent and targeted execution.

Why should free mixer and grinders be provided? How long do you think that it takes to make batter for predominantly idli / dosa eating population? The labour substitution that these devices bring in change a woman’s life in kitchen. For most of us, this may not be a big thing, but for women who are poor (and there are many), this is a gift they will cherish. A two-hour additional time for them is two hours more work, selling vegetables or flowers, selling fish or being a maid in one more home.

Why should free laptops be provided? If literacy is defined upto 21st century as ability to read and write, it will be defined as ability to access and process information in 21st century. Chennai, being an IT hub and with students experimenting with laptops is how innovation is built.

She lived by “SALUS POPULI EST SUPREMA LEX,” meaning welfare of the people is the supreme law, which she quoted in one of her speeches.

Federal Polity:

There has never been a greater champion of federal structure than her. The earliest known is her speech in Rajya Sabha on 25th April 1984 on fair shares for states in a federal structure where she calls financial contribution by states to center as “States regularly part with massive sums of money – like sacrificial oblations at the altar of the Central Government.” This is not a one off incident and her recent stand on GST was borne out of this and still has very valid points which all other parties have ignored.

Tamil Language:

Few know that she fought for Tamil’s right to be declared as Classical Language in 1980s. How many of us know that Government of India had a condition that the language must be rarely spoken for a language to be declared as classical? She ridiculed this dubious rule with logic and reason.

Boldness:

From Indira Gandhi to Pranab Mukherjee to NT Rama Rao to Karunanidhi to Sonia Gandhi to Vajpayee, all have been at the receiving end of her blunt logic and direct unapologetic choice of words, all being in their prime of power.

The list can be endless; for the life has been so magnificent and all giving.

Women in India have broken many glass ceilings in the past. But never in Politics. It was always a support of a family which brought up women in politics. From Indira Gandhi to Sheila Dixit, people have had family backing to be successful in politics. The earliest person to break this was Jayalalithaa. In an indirect way, she has been forerunner to Mayawati and Mamata Banerjee.

For a culture which detests single woman, the public life of Jayalalithaa must serve as an inspiration. A life which has affected millions of people in enormously positive way is a goal which can be worth an attempt. In her, what we have is a near perfect role model for women to emulate, or attempt emulating. This doesn’t mean that one should be in politics. It means that women can excel in whatever the chosen field is. When last rites are performed by a woman, one of the last male fiefdoms is broken in Tamil Nadu. There are many to be broken, yet.

For a well read person, who often quoted poetry in English and Tamil, Tennyson sounds fitting.

Sleep sweetly, tender heart, in peace;

Sleep, holy spirit, blessed soul,

While the stars burn, the moons increase,

And the great ages onward roll.

 

Sleep till the end, true soul and sweet.

Nothing comes to thee new or strange,

Sleep full of rest from head to feet:

Lie still, dry dust, secure of change.

India’s Currency Swap aka Demonetization

“Money has never made man happy, nor will it, there is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more of it one has the more one wants,” said Benjamin Franklin.

Couple of centuries later, this holds true and therein lies the nature of humans to acquire more wealth, some legitimately and some illegitimately.  It has been couple of weeks since India had announced its currency swap – old for new – scheme. This is certainly not a time to know about the impact of this move, which many of its proponents claim, are beneficial for the ‘nation’ in the long run.

NUMBER GAMES

Four Indias:

What we generally hear and what comes to as common knowledge are three strata of classifications of based on income – poor, middle class and rich. However, there is another class who are neither poor, nor middle class. To borrow the term used by NCAER-CMCR in their publications, this group is called as “Aspirers.” This aspirers class have a household income of less than Rupee 2,00,000 per annum. That’s right, per annum. The combined aspirers and poor in this country is close to one billion, considering our population is 1.2 billion. When someone tells you that the middle class is so big, please take it with a bucket full of salt.

There is another class of India, which now owns close to 60% of nation’s wealth. This class is just 1% of our total population.

Some pedantic economists may find fault with comparing income and wealth. These are not comparisons, but statements of fact to set the background, the reality of money in India, a country which is nothing but collection of people.

Black Money:

There is no authoritative figure to state what is the actual amount of black money in India. In a common sense question, if you can count it, its not black, is it?

But, it is also common sense that there exist black money in India.

How many civil servants have been caught with ‘cash’ which cannot be accounted? Countless.

That and that alone, must suffice us to convince that black money is hoarded in cash, however low the percent maybe. (Google keywords: cash seized IAS).

State of the economy:

In the Economic Survey 2015-2016, presented by Arun Jaitley, it is clearly stated that our growth story has been predominantly consumption driven. That means, you and I, spend on something that we want. A rupee in my pocket goes to another person for a product or a service. The Investment has not picked up due to many reasons – predominant being banking crisis, private sector’s lack of confidence and the general global climate of less growth.  (Source: http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=136853 )

Banking penetration:

As per the RBI’s report of the committee on the Medium term path on Financial Inclusion, the proportion of households availing banking service stands at 59%. That means, 41% do not avail banking service in India. In a country with 1.2 billion population, this is a large number.  (Source: https://rbi.org.in/scripts/PublicationReportDetails.aspx?ID=836 )

1 and 2 vs 3 and 4:

So what this new swap does? It takes away close to 85% of cash in circulation. Read it with “India being a consumption driven economy” and “low banking penetration” this sounds counter intuitive to choke majority people (aspirers and poor) with no access to banking system and who may not hoard black money.

It is true that our consumption will greatly suffer. For what we call consumption, it is also someone’s income. The people who are gravely affected are the exact people who may not have black money – the poor and the aspirers.

In spite of known contradictions, the government has boldly moved to withdraw existing high denomination notes.

This is always a question of intended benefits (future) vs imminent consequences (present). How it will pan out has no answers, atleast not any with great probability. Some are quoted frequently.

  1. Counterfeit will be gone. True. It has resurfaced. So strike that.
  2. Terrorist funding will be gone. Maybe. But it has resurfaced with terrorists. Strike that.
  3. Black money will be wiped off completely. We do not know, yet.
  4. Move to a cashless economy.

So out of the four major intended benefits, two are already disproved, factually. The third one is a chimera in India. But still, we have made an attempt by genuinely making the cost of holding cash in black higher. So why do it?

Herein comes our psychology.

The theme of rich versus poor has been used by many kings and leaders throughout the history. It is no different in our country and in our times. We all perceive others (read ‘Rich’) to be corrupt and not us. That is the only reason why we do not find any riot or any major violence on the street, even after people are deprived of their own money, by a dikkat. People who kill their own children for not marrying according to their wish are silent and standing in queue.

Majority of people, genuinely believe that this is a move to counter black money. And hence, support the government move. What we are currently witnessing is the silent majority’s approval of the government move, even under hardships and duress (not inconvenience as many idiots put it), which is present and real for hope of a better tomorrow, still, just a hope. Some may call it as people’s inability to do anything because the policy has been implemented. It may also be true.

Imagine a daily labourer losing his wage and his family going hungry. Imagine a farmer unable to cultivate at a right time. Imagine someone’s wedding being messed up. Imagine losing someone in the queue or it’s consequence.

For all the disruptions, which is present and visible, this better be worth it.

P.S: More on Cashless economy in the next post.

India’s Surgical Strike

 

indian_army_ranks_insignia

 

On 29th September, the Indian Army announced that it had carried out a “pre-emptive” strike ‘across’ the LoC, against terrorists who were training to wreck havoc in our country.

Caution: Rest of what is here may sound jingoistic. It is one such day. So bear with it.

Before today, I was writing this:

Two decades after First World War, Philip Larkin thus wrote:

“Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word – the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again.”

For three stanzas before this, he describes the mundane and normal life, of an era gone by. Even the poem is titled MCMXIV (representing 1914, start of WWI). Alas, a war had changed all that, forever.

With war bugles sounding over private chats and obnoxious television channels, it is imperative that we do not forget Uri, like how we forgot Pathankot, Gurdaspur, Udhampur, Mumbai, Mumbai, Mumbai, Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Ajmer, Pampore, Sopore, Kokhrajar, Red Fort, Akshardaham, Varanasi, Bangalore, Coimbatore and many more. Mother India (just to secularize Bharat Mata) has bled countless times because of us, Indians.

The greatest motivator, catalyst and success of perpetrators (apart from Islamic fundamentalism) of such attacks, is our memory or lack thereof, absence of our collective conscience and of course, an apathy that is present in the establishment – not the government in power (now or before), not the opposition, but the establishment.

For too long, we have lived in the ‘now,’ thinking and reacting to what we hear and what we see, easily forgetting what will happen a year from now, five years from now, a decade from now.

For too long, we have chased a chimera – of peace with Pakistan, hoping against all odds that we, as brothers once, can live in peace.

For too long, we had romanticized sacrifices of our young men in uniform, forgetting what happens to their families after the news cycle goes to another story.

For too long, we have been apologetic in how we deal with terrorists, even if a court has to be woken at the middle of the night and serve justice.

Now today: What has our surgical strike achieved?

  1. We have called Pak’s nuclear bluff. Now, the next move is theirs. Going by the inconsistencies in their own media, round one is ours to celebrate.
  2. Our restraint is not infinite and it cannot be taken for granter. Ever.
  3. The fence sitters in international community will have to take a stance now. A nuclear war is not in anybody’s interest and we have announced, just surgically, that we are prepared for the worst.
  4. Every terror strike going without retribution and retaliation is a humiliation we have been inflicting upon ourselves. No more. Though one strike doesn’t take back all the humiliation we have suffered, it’s the intent that will make the next pig think twice.
  5. A sword is of no use if it cannot be used in a war – same with us. There is no meaning in being proud of our might if we cannot impose our will with that might. Today changes all.
  6. Today tells us there is NO moderate Pakistani around with whom you can make peace. Evidences? Watch the media and read from so called moderate voices across the border. (More on the Land of the Pure later)
  7. Pakistan cannot call for UNSC condemnation (I want to say this – they cannot kneel, cry and beg with folded hands) for loss of sovereignty as PoK is technically and legally ours and we have just crossed an imaginary line to do what we deemed fit.
  8. Pre-emptive is a new doctrine in our security policy. Once it is pre-emptive, nothing stops us in the future and nothing must.
  9. Only thing that enabled such pygmies to attack us were our non-show of strength. This changes every calculation of Pak.
  10. This is unquestionably India’s “with humanity or with terrorists” moment – domestically and internationally.

Whatever, I mean WHATEVER the consequences, how much ever the cost of this strike, is worth paying.

An Ode to Indian Monsoon

Monsoon - Pune

 

You announce your arrival with a thunder

Your absence makes us wonder

Tease you do, with a nation’s mind

Arriving late with your moist wind

 

You make us smell fragrance of Earth

A drop of you makes us mirth

You make us see colours of Earth

Of sky you give us rainbow

 

You reveal a beauty in darkness

To a people behind fairness

Red, black or rock

You give us all without a balk (adapted from Kurunthogai)

 

From sizzling to drizzling

From ablaze to abloom

From air conditioned to Conditioned air

From sticky to sublime

From the summer roast,

You save us rain.

 

Life and relief,

Joy and greed

To farmer and Finance Minister,

To trader and Dalal street

You give them all – all

They need and all they want.

 

A drop of you quenches one

More of you quenches many

And even more of you,

God save us, crushes most.

 

You teach us, of nature’s lesson

You make us, to learn

That is of inequality

O You biased rain!

Like all things in India

More to Mumbai and less to Chennai!

 

June to September – or

October to December,

South-west or North-east

All thank you, dear Monsoon

 

There is life because of you,

Never a life, without you

The greatness of ‘You’ – demonstrates

Insignificance of ‘I’!

Technology, Labour and Transforming India

pexels-photo-113850

One of the ambitious promotions of Government of India is ‘Make in India.’ Simply put, the idea is to become the next China, a manufacturing powerhouse. With all our constraints, we have been in pursuit of this goal for a quarter century now. All governments since 1991 have pursued a policy to attract FDI in multiple sectors and reforms cannot be reforms without the magic words ‘Foreign Direct Investment.’ In itself, this is not a bad thing. On the other hand, in itself, this is not the magic bullet to cure all our economic ills.

In the current push towards manufacturing, more resources – political and economic capital –  is spent, rightly so towards manufacturing.

However, there is one Indian Tiger which can be uncaged and will be on the prowl with minimum legal framework – Technology.

There are two major impediments to Make in India.

  1. It is a long cycle and high investment game. S&P has said today (2nd August, 2016) that India’s poor infrastructure is the biggest roadblock to this promotion. And we know that fixing infrastructure cannot be achieved in a day or in our context, even a decade. Will global capital wait?
  2. Global Over Supply, especially from China. In other words, the world has more factories than it needs. And those factories are producing cheap goods and dumping in rest of the world. How many corporations will be willing to invest heavily in India when there is a supply glut in China? Thus, our performance will not reflect our potential.

It is in this context, with questionable outcome, Technology sector has to be let go.

Against the backdrop of overcapacity in china we need to see our ability to create assets for productivity. The first of it is fixed or infrastructure. How long does it take to construct a road in India? This is symptomatic of larger malaise in the rent seeking nature of babudom. Capital will not wait for years together to make India prosperous. Exhibits: Tata at Singur and Posco. There can be many examples but the simple fact is that we are not smart and our systems complicated in a race to build infra, be it public or private.

Next asset – people. It had been repeated time and again that most graduates are unemployable or lack basic skills or both. Given this, where we have excelled is the rudimentary, mundane and highly generalized ITES sector. After this, we have excelled at our traditional sectors – jewellery, handloom and textiles, leather and to some certain extent fisheries. Traditional sectors come with ancient knowledge. Between these two and outside of these two blocks, lie the world and the growth that we seek now.

Given these two constrains which are not abstract in nature – like democracy, demographic dividend, plurality etc.- but real, we need to approach technology.

Continue reading “Technology, Labour and Transforming India” »

Goodness of Pune

Ganesh Festival, Pune

Ganesh Festival, Pune

One year in Pune.

It will be one year this week since I came to Pune. This is about few random thoughts on Pune, mostly good.

  1. Safety – It was a rude shock to see a girl walk in a deserted road after the last show from a multiplex. The data can reveal something but certainly there is a feeling that people can walk freely at night and without any issue. Chennai is supposed to be safe city. And Pune, equally is. There is one crime in IPC which is quite different. Its called as “Insult to Modesty of Women.” This can be seen as a minor crime but it reveals a lot. It is surprising that Chennai is far worse than Pune in this aspect.
  2. Women – I have always heard that the best place for a woman to work in India is Mumbai. Like all biases and prejudices, this claim can either be true or false. But there is one thing which is certain. In India, Pune is one of the best open places for women to work. A corollary to “Insult to Modesty of Women” crime being low is that, as a society, women are respected a little more than average and little less objectified than the national average. Combined with safety, this city should top every woman’s list of places to be. There are other correlations but with no causal relationships – like more women sporting tattoos or more women going out to have a good time.
  3. Culture (whatever the definition is!) – We in South of India, should stop bragging about having diverse and rich culture and all associated pride. A walk through this city will demonstrate how hollow that claim is. Music, theatre, festivities, food and the pride that comes with it is equal to any southern city. Number of music halls may be less but the passion certainly is not.
  4. Ganesh Festival – forget Mumbai. Its Pune which rocks. Every street corner having a Pandal and every group celebrating Ganesh is as big as Diwali. The colour, the music, the noise and ‘people celebrating together’ is something similar to a village festival we have in south, which large cities have abandoned.
  5. Food – something for everyone! The city has host of options, from more diverse cuisine than what we get in Chennai. Iranian (non Biriyani), East Asian and German(?)! If a bakery (Kayani Bakery) can attract crowd everyday like a cinema hall, it says a lot about the food.
  6. Street Food – Chennai has long lost the trust of many people to have food from ‘kaiyendhi bhavans.’ One shop in T.Nagar doesn’t cut as a sample of overall quality of food served on road. Pune is closer to another southern city, Madurai than the metropolis of Chennai – more options, hygiene and taste. (A dedicated post on Vada Pav later.)
  7. Sambar – Lets not be cocky to claim Sambar as exclusively southern (or Tamil) dish. It’s has a Maharashtrian lineage and especially linked to a person from Pune – Sambhaji, the son of Shivaji.
  8. Pride – if there is a competing state to our (Tamil) pride, its Maharashtra. And Pune is at the heart of that competition. Like how we are proud of Tamil, people are proud of Marathi. Like how we are proud about Chola empire, people are proud about Maratha Empire. A Bhosale still being the prince of Thanjavur goes on to show how proud they are about the influence of Marathas, despite their differences.
  9. Mahatma Phule – you cannot cover in one sentence or a paragraph about the importance of this person. Personally, I consider him real ‘Mahatma’ than Gandhi.
  10. Progressives – Women priests to women entering a temple sanctum sanctorum, Maharashtra and places around Pune leads rest of India.
  11. South’s proud peaceful coexistence – We, from Southern states are proud of peaceful coexistence between communities. But we owe a lot of that peace to the Marathas. Peaceful south was possible because of valiant Marathas. The see-saw between Mughals, Nizam and Marathas has (yes, has and not had) kept the southern India more peaceful and harmonious between communities than we would like to acknowledge.
  12. Politics of India, today – to understand the politics of India today, we need to understand the politics of Maharashtra, not just because of RSS but because of people. And to understand politics of Maharashtra, we need to understand the history of Maharashtra. What we in south may see as chauvinism by some political parties, is actually not considered so by many. When someone says Muslim rulers were invaders and foreign, we in south, may not see so emotionally attached to it or identify with it or agree to it. Scars of that fight still runs through and visible in the geography around Pune. Remnants of various forts and the battle to protect or conquer those bear those scars. When we talk in abstract of values we are shown these scars, proud scars. I have always wondered why anyone cannot write various shades of Shivaji, the great. But come to Pune and talk to highly educated, well travelled, cosmopolitan Maharashtrians (not any fringe that we were told of) and they will tell you why. How do you offend someone who was just not a king but is revered as high as God?

The journey of a Tamil on discovery of India should start from Pune. To throw out our biases, to tear our prejudices, to strip of our overbearing pride (of culture, intelligence etc), Pune, is a better starting point and hence will make us more open to learn and see things, not from a southern prism but of different places. By the way, Maharashtra is not ‘North India.’

Like all cities and places, Pune too has many bad shades – crumbling infrastructure, public hospitals not being good, public transport not being comparable to superior Tamil Nadu or Kerala, there is no traffic sense, caste is alive and kicking etc.

But this post is to pick the roses and not the weed.