Saturday, September 29, 2012

THE GREATER COMMON GOOD


THE GREATER COMMON GOOD

Renunciation, sacrifice, living for others, giving up individual rights for the benefit of society are the different terms used and abused by those in power all over the world. A few days ago the Supreme Court used this phrase in the context of the judicial reference made to it in the 2G spectrum allocation case. The basic question that needs to be answered is that in a welfare democratic state where inequalities exist, should the Government intervene for the welfare of the disadvantaged? If the answer is yes as our leaders with socialistic leanings from the Nehru-Gandhi era thought, then why did the welfare state go horribly wrong? The next question that needs to be answered is can the state allow market forces to rule the roost and believe that such market driven GDP measured growth will benefit the poor by the so called “trickle down theory”? The last question to be asked is that are the present policies favouring corporate India at the cost of welfare economics, the correct way to go forward?

Small is beautiful and self sufficient. An economic model based on small units, local production, local consumption, reduction of needs and desires was the dream of the Father of the Nation. Production by masses rather than mass production was Gandhi’s mantra. Independent India with its aspirations and with Nehru at the helm quickly dismissed these ideas as impractical and ancient. Modern India looked on the large public sector where Government became the provider of all services and individuals who wished to create industries for profit were looked down as enemies of the nation. It was thought that the state was paramount and the repository of all wisdom, and would work for the greater common good. In the guise of the greater common good, small industries, local arts and crafts and forest based tribal cultures were brushed aside in favour of large factories and projects. Large dams, mono-culture fertilizer based farming, acquisition of forest and tribal land led to huge internal migrations and exploitation and misery for the poor. In every field, native wisdom was forgotten and the state became dominant. The result of these policies was a massive flawed inefficient state along with the killing of individual enterprise, creativity and entrepreneurial initiative. The license-permit raj led to a low growth rate and a brain drain where Indians went away from the country and excelled abroad. Taxation and state interference in the name of the “greater common good” made the people evade tax and become cynical and frustrated.

After 1990, in the face of huge external debts and an economic crisis, the state took a U turn and unleashed the Indian enterprise and allowed the private players a free hand. The private players created massive wealth and used all means fair and foul to amass wealth. A country where showing wealth was considered vulgar, the display of wealth became the norm and the role models of society changed overnight. It was believed that the market forces would create demands and jobs and the poor would become rich. Foreign players were given free rein and allowed to come in with some safe guards. All of this is resulting in a gradual abdication by the state of its duties and responsibilities to the poor. The greater common good has been forgotten. Corporate India has cornered and influenced policy by fair and often foul means to create massive wealth for itself without serving the greater common good. Anything for welfare like right to food, loans for the farmer, social security schemes is considered as unjustified expenditure, but cheap land acquisition of industry, soft loans for corporates, rescue of faltering companies by loan waivers and tax concessions is considered good economics. This has resulted in unprecedented massive corruption. The crass materialism and spawning of unbridled desires has resulted in an erosion of values on an unimaginable scale. The ravaging of the natural resources and mother earth has resulted in a complete reversal of the principle of “the greater common good”.

 "I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man [woman] whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him [her]. Will he [she] gain anything by it? Will it restore him [her] to a control over his [her] own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj [freedom] for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and your self melt away." "Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's needs but not even one man's greed". Both these quotes from Gandhi reflected his vision and ability to see and understand the concept of individual growth and the greater common good, long before we have as a nation reached the present state.

A model of individualized local development, with technology assisting human growth and development rather than exploiting masses to create wealth for few should not be beyond the capabilities of human beings. Today, I do not think that the state is capable, willing or trustworthy enough to create such a model. While listing examples of wrong intent on the part of the state will make this blog too voluminous, I would only like to take the burning issues to make my point. 2G spectrum allocation in the name of creating widespread cheap telephony was used to amass wealth by the ruling class. The trading of ministries as a bargaining chip for supporting minority government obviously points to wrong doing. Coal gate is another example of such doings. Diesel price hike has hit the poor while creating a situation where 90% of the luxury passenger vehicles produced is running on subsidized diesel. SUV’s are sold cheap so rich take example of this subsidy while the poor and made to pay extra for their LPG cylinders. Does this policy seem correct??
FDI in retail, why?? Can we not strengthen our farmers by creating the infrastructure, cold chains and storage facilities in our own country instead of inviting foreigners? Why kill our local shopkeepers who can provide variety and individualized services for large monsters catering to material desires and creating wealth for corporate. Does India need a rise in the number billionaires on Forbes lists or a rise in human development indices?

Can we trust the state to do its duties and serve the greater common good in the real sense different from the Nehru model and the liberalization model? I think it is time for persons with vision to take up this task in earnest and work to make a sustainable model to truly serve the greater common good. The answer will come by going back to the grass roots and connecting with native wisdom.
Sincerely
Vispi Jokhi 



Wednesday, September 05, 2012

A Tale of two verdicts


It is a quirk of fate or a sign from the celestial that India saw two judgements pronounced on the same day, supreme court giving the verdict on the Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Kasab and the Gujarat courts giving a verdict on Dr Maya Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi. Both courts found the accused guilty and deserving the maximum punishment there are many similarities and differences between both actions.

Both crimes were committed in the name of religion, but both crimes could never be considered as religious acts, by even the wildest stretch of imagination. Both of them represented their masters, who conspired to get their foot soldiers to kill indiscriminately and brutally persons of a particular religion who were defenceless and innocent bystanders. While Kasab claimed that the crimes committed in Gujarat gave him enough reason to do what he did, the Gujarat accused claim that act of burning Kar sewaks in Godhra prompted them to do what they did. Fundamentalist attitudes feed on each other and unscrupulous elements in the name of religion indoctrinate vulnerable gullible persons to commit such heinous crimes.

While Kasab used modern weapons to indiscriminately gun down any person who came in front of him, the lady doctor and her pack of goons hounded and hunted down innocent persons who were Muslims with crude medieval weapons and liberal use of petrol as a retribution and revenge for acts committed by their co-religionists. While Kasab is a poor uneducated, foot soldier, vulnerable to get influenced by persons who spread hatred and venom in name of religion, Dr Maya is a gynecologist, educated professional trained in helping create and propagate life. While both were backed by persons in power Kasab was from foreign land acting against persons who his country considered as enemy, Dr Maya and Babu Bajrangi acted against their own countrymen and while not actually using a weapon of mass destruction, distributed and directly exhorted frenzied mobs to commit violent acts defying all civilized norms. Kasab probably knew that he would be caught or killed and was prepared for both eventualities, he is showing no remorse for his acts. Dr. Maya and Bajrangi were almost sure that they would never get caught and had it not been for the Herculean efforts of the human right activists and unprecedented actions of the Supreme Court reopening cases which the state had closed to protect its favored few, both of them would have been enjoying power and rewards from their political masters.

We are all very ready to hang Kasab, but our muted reaction to the other verdict betrays a mind set ready to condone brutal acts against persons considered as them as opposed to us.
In my view capital punishment is wrong and no civilized society can have it on its statute books, state complicity in acts of violence against its own people cannot be forgiven. In the history of modern India mob violence and killing in the name of religion has been endemic and our short memories and NIMBY (not in my backyard) attitude has resulted in allowing the perpetrators of such violence to escape punishment and in fact become more powerful. Can two or more wrongs add up and make a right? Can ignoble means justify noble ends?

In conclusion I leave it to your judgment to decide your reaction to these acts and judgments. Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it. However Kasab and Kodnani are two sides of the same coin and their masters fall in same category too.