Indian politics has just got interesting in the last few weeks.
Anand Mahindra, a leading industrialist, was quoted by The Economist recently saying that 2012 was possibly the worst year for India's economy and polity for a long time. He is indeed right: For much of 2012, Indian economy was bumping along the bottom and the Government was frozen in a policy paralysis, mired in corruption scandals and unable to do anything at all. The economic growth rate plummeted to 5% mark, which meant, in effect, that more people will remain in poverty and the middle classes will take a lot longer to get the commodities they covet than they previously expected: A recipe for disaster in a country like India. Modern India presents a classic illustration of Ernest Gellner's point that the modern state draws its legitimacy from economic growth and the lack of it may cause an existential trouble for the state. That moment surely arrived in India in 2012.
In many a ways, India's democracy was seen as the culprit. There were always doubts about Indian democracy and theories that it can't work for a country with so many poor and illiterate people. Besides, there were such deep divisions, along the language, religion, caste and regional lines. There was always a risk that Indian democratic system will be taken over by demagogues, who will buy votes with cheap promises and eventually drive the system towards failure. This looked very real in 2012, particularly with West Bengal's Chief Minister, Mamta Banerjee, losing her bearings completely and her party of sycophants blocking everything that the government at the centre, run by a coalition in which it was a senior member, wanted to do. It was political dysfunction at its worst, and coming in the middle of a global economic crisis, it was indeed a very risky game to play.
The warning signs were all there. The rupee started plummeting, driving up the energy prices and along that, everything else. The current account deficit widened, and the borrowing costs of the country was steadily going upwards. The government's policy of investing in rural India, while bringing in many benefits in terms of literacy and social mobility, created structural inflation, which was difficult to contain with interest rate rises, which the Central Bank kept trying out, raising the cost of credit and dampening the EMI (Equal Monthly Instalment) culture which the middle classes so coveted. There were asset bubbles visible in Indian cities, gold prices kept going up and unemployment among middle classes were becoming common again. The gigantic corruption scandals made all government projects a suspect, and froze the bureaucracy into inaction as they feared any decision will attract the vigilante crowd with their secret cameras and freedom of information requests.
The democracy is in danger too. The parliament has hardly worked in the last session, with the opposition and even the governing coalition members resorting to walk outs and other measures rather than the legislative ones. The progress as opposed to freedom argument has been rekindled, with Gujrat's authoritarian Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, trying to position himself as a Prime Ministerial candidate on the development agenda. Leaders like Mamta Banerjee made the political process look silly, forcing her party leaders into hopeless submissions to her own whims and reducing the political process to a kitchen table drama both in her own state and on the wider national stage. The middle classes, reduced to vigilantism by the corrupt government practises, dismayed by obstructionism of regional chieftains like Ms Banerjee, and squeezed by rising prices and interest rates and vanishing jobs, have started blaming democracy and the state for all their woes - or it seemed. The fear-mongers such as Mr Modi are clearly enjoying their moment in the sun, and Indian state, as it stands now, is facing its worst existential crisis since India's independence sixty years ago.
However, India's democracy worked because of its diversity, not in spite of it. There were always dangerous demagogues lurking in the regional politics, but they were contained by the democratic requirements. If anything, the Indian constitution, with its centralising tendencies, stands vindicated at moments like these (despite the benefits of greater devolution of powers to the states) and the fact that Indians can't agree on hard measures, a key problem for pushing through the economic reforms, may just spare us from the horrors of a dictatorship.
Finally, the government has also finally woken up from slumber. In the last few days, a range of unpopular measures allowing Foreign Direct Investment in different sectors and partially withdrawing energy subsidies, moves that will help plugging Current Account deficits to some extent and help the Central Bank to start reducing interest rates, have been put in effect. This was a rare show of courage from an otherwise lackluster government, and though it has resulted in Ms Banerjee storming out of the coalition, it has allowed the momentum to shift in favour of the government somewhat.
The interesting thing about this latest political drama is that even the regional politicians with a caste/ religion agenda are quickly learning that it is economic growth, and that alone, can give them legitimacy and create a sustainable political base. The spectacular fall from grace of Bihar's master demagogue, Lalu Prasad Yadav, is a case in point: His successor, Nitish Kumar, very much a caste politician, has learnt hard lessons and turned his focus on delivering growth rather than playing the vote bank politics. The shift is discernible in Gujrat, where Mr Modi, after his riots and rampages are over, reincarnated himself as the 'development guy'. Even in the UP, India's biggest and one of the most backward state, a traditional playground for vote bank politics, the message of development is clear and unambiguous, ironically championed by a caste-based party: But it is trends like these which indicate that Indian politicians are capable of learning lessons and they may be able to turn things around, even if this happens only at the precipice.
There are people like Ms Banerjee who may never learn the lessons, such great is her megalomania. The politics of West Bengal is rather atypical, dominated by upper castes, urban traders and middlemen interests, but rest of the country has indeed moved forward. The new generation of regional leaders are pragmatic, and they are likely to be nimble in forming coalitions and pushing their agenda. The state in India may look fragile, but this may be the inflection point rather than the setting of a catastrophe: This may be the time when a coalition of regional interests, focused on the economic growth agenda, may emerge as a dominant force in national politics. Despite its apparent limitations, this may be a good thing: This will preserve democracy and the Indian constitution as it stands, but at the same time, promote growth and bring governance closer to the people. In the middle of this crisis, modern India's golden age may be about to begin.
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.
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
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
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
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,
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
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.