India is burning! Somewhat - or, so it seems on Facebook. But then India is rarely stirred, given the gravitas of our culture, our indifference to the shocks and flavours of the day. Irrespective of what the Facebook chatteretti says, life will go on in India: At least, that's what the Government hopes at this time.
In a way, the Indian cabinet has done well. Within 24 hours, they have broken through the shackles they found themselves into in the era of coalition politics and thrown the gauntlet back to various demagogues and populist politicians, who, despite being in the coalition and in the government, continued to behave as the opposition, trying to benefit from both sides.
In a way, these moves were expected. Indian government, and particularly its Prime Minister, was being lampooned in the world media for their inability to get anything done. The story of India's government for last few years have been the story of endless corruption, and nothing else. This was dangerous, particularly in these recessionary times: Many were fearing a tipping point when the India story becomes stale and international capital takes a flight, which, given that most of this capital has come in the form of Foreign Institutional Investment and were parked in the Bombay Stock Exchange and relatively easy to withdraw (as opposed to Foreign Direct Investment, which goes into factories, machinery and businesses and relatively harder to withdraw). This would have sparked a crisis in India compared to the one faced by South-East Asian nations in the late-90s, or Russia during the Yeltsin era and Argentina in 2001, setting the country back by many years and possibly creating a political disintegration. The Armageddon was very real and very proximate.
Then, a number of things happened. First, India's ineffective Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, was retired upward as the President. Mr Mukherjee had earned a name for being a skilled political operator, which meant his policies were about endless adjustment and giving in to the demands of regional politicians with outsized egos: His exit from Cabinet somehow injected new initiative in the government. Next, the Indian government started a series of policy reversals, like the retrospective re-examination of various Foreign investment deals, which was threatening India's stature as a stable democratic country with a rule of law and discouraging even the little FDI the country manages to attract. Finally, came the bonfire of dithering, measures announced in the last 48 hours, which included highly contentious partial withdrawal of subsidy on Diesel, and allowing FDI in the retail sector, opening up the sector to large multi-brand retail players like Tesco, Walmart and Carrefour. They have also thrown open the Country's commercial aviation, unlike most other countries, and allowed the ailing domestic players to seek investment from outside. They have also okayed divestment in four Public Sector Units (PSUs), which is expected to raise £2 billion for a minority stake.
Indeed, these steps are only interim. The government needs to go further in reducing diesel subsidy and may need to raise at least double the current amount from divestment to meet its deficit reduction targets. There are a number of sectors outside Retail and Aviation that needs to be looked into if the urban jobs and growths have to return. The government may have to recalibrate its strategy vis-a-vis rural growth and, though it may shy away from land reforms and forcing capitalist forms in agriculture, it will expect some of that to come through the change in retailing and consequent transformation of purchasing and distribution. It will take further courage to tackle issues such as wasteful fertiliser subsidies, and one may expect these to be left untouched until after the next election.
The opposition and the allies took the streets, but surely their bluff was now called. Mamta Banerjee, a government ally, the West Bengal's Chief Minister and the naysayer in chief, now says that she would protest against the moves but will not leave the government: She continues to play to both sides but this time looks weak as the government has now exposed her duplicity. The BJP, supposedly the right-wing party whose own government in Gujrat will entertain the FDI with open arms and whose Chief Minister will soon be lobbying with the global giants to put up their HQs in the state, are currently protesting against these moves and trying to rally the public. But, though it seems counter-intuitive at this time, the government has suddenly seized the initiatives.
The Indian electorate has, in the past, punished corruption quite severely. This government has a terrible record in that regard, and if history is any guide, they are unlikely to be returned to power in 2014. The consequent political desperation, perhaps hopeless, may work out well for India. Much needed changes may finally happen, as no government trying to balance various electorate will never have the courage to pursue them at a more normal time. These changes will mean deeper integration of India into the global economy, and the global capital getting access to India's domestic demand, which is still alive and well. India's growth and prosperity in the last two decades were stock-market fuelled, and India was showing alarming symptoms of becoming a tycoon economy in the relative stagnation in the last decade or so: These changes, and if more follows, may now transform the inward-looking business sectors, retail (and as extension agri-business), domestic air travel (and by extension the transportation industry), and further, and open up new opportunities for newer players. Indian market will invariably mean that business models have to be adapted and innovations in service and delivery have to happen: This means more opportunities for Indian entrepreneurs and executives to play a greater and more rewarding role.
This is all a gamble, one that the usual democratic politics didn't allow us for a long time. But they were unavoidable, and irreversible too, whichever government comes to power. One would hope that this government, in its desperate twilight years, will push ahead with more and more reforms. This may break their coalition, and may, in the end, lead to a different configuration of Indian politics. But all this had to happen, sooner the better, and we arrive here almost by accident, as we run out of options: This always happens in India.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
There is no other city like Kolkata for me: It is Home. The only city where I don't have to find a reason to go to, or to love. It is one city hardwired into my identity, and despite being away for a decade, that refuses to go away. People stay away from their homeland for a variety of reasons. But, as I have come to feel, no one can be completely happy to be away. One may find fame or fortune, love and learning, in another land, but they always live an incomplete life. They bring home broken bits of their homeland into their awkward daily existence, a cushion somewhere, a broken conversation in mother tongue some other time, always rediscovering the land they left behind for that brief moment of wanting to be themselves. The cruelest punishment, therefore, for a man who lives abroad is when his love for his land is denied. It is indeed often denied, because the pursuit of work, knowledge or love seemed to have gotten priority over the attraction of the land. This is particularly
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
It's not often that I get to do things I like, but, as it happens, the lockdown came with a little gift. I was asked to develop, by an Indian entrepreneur with a strong commitment to education, a framework for a Liberal Education for one of his schools. And, as a part of this exercise, I was asked to develop a critique of Indian Education, if only to set the context of the proposal I am to make. I claim to have some unusual - therefore unique - qualification to do this job. I am, after all, an outsider in all senses. I have lived outside India for a long time, but never went too far away, making it my field of work for most of the period. I have also been outside the academe but never too far away: Just outside the bureaucracy but intimately into the conversations. I worked in the 'disruptive' end of education without the intention to disrupt and in For-profit without the desire for profit. Along the way, the only thing I consistently did is study educatio
I wrote a note on Kolkata, the city I come from and would always belong to, in July 2010. Since then, the post attracted many visitors and comments, mostly critical, as most people, including those from Kolkata, couldn't see any future for the city. My current effort, some 18 months down the line, is also prompted by a recent article in The Economist, The City That Got Left Behind , which echo the pessimism somewhat. I, at least emotionally, disagree to all the pessimism: After all Kolkata is home and I live in the hope of an eventual return. Indeed, some change has happened since I wrote my earlier post: The geriatric Leftist government that ruled the state for more than 30 years was summarily dispatched, and was replaced by a lumpen-capitalist populist government. Kolkata looked without a future with the clueless leftists at the helm; it now looks without hope. However, apart from bad governance, there is no reason why Kolkata had to be poor and hopeless. It sits right
In our age, the only way to be politically correct is to be democratic. This is a post-70s affair - those days, still, some people had alternative ideologies in mind. Those alternate ideas are dead and gone, long discredited, and it seems that we have only one system which can make people happy, free and live longer. So, we have this huge export industry of democracy, and democracy's warriors, which the American security establishment has lately become. The democracy's businessmen, the bond traders, the media barons and the Hollywood types, are feted everywhere. The consensus is deafening and dumbing. It is indeed awkward to ask now - whether democracy is the right system for every society. It indeed should be. Collective wisdom is better than individual autocracy. In societies where democratic elections have been few and far between, the popular vote has demonstrated the extra-ordinary political savvy of the usually disinterested masses. Democracy has proved to be an excell
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.