Facebook Badge

Showing posts with label Baba Ramdev. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Baba Ramdev. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Neo Middle Classes Protest

High on Aspirations, Low on Talent

Let me just say it straight out. The Delhi protests against the shocking rape of a young woman in a bus were led by students of the Jawaharlal Nehru University and other universities and colleges where underpaid teachers spew their leftist propaganda to taint impressionable minds.. They are high-minded but like all university students in India, somewhat moronic on the organization front. Their post-modern protest, inspired by the leftists of Europe and North Africa, simply didn’t work. They neither have the ideological fervor of their Western European counterparts nor the rage against the machine of their Tunisian and Egyptian idols. What they are confronting is a political system that is bereft of vision beyond electoral calculation, a bureaucracy that is inept and obstructionist, a business class that is free of ethics and morality. And this is not today’s news; the gridlock has been in existence since 1947. How otherwise do you explain the lack of basic infrastructure, not just roads, power, public transport but also the lack of education, public health and social security?

It is mind-boggling that the protesters and the media, egged on by shadowy political interests, can hold public debate  to ransom over a sordid criminal offence by marginal people like the monsters on the bus. The protest is all about the government and how insensitive it is. The young men and women seemed to be more interested in having major government officials talk to them. The real issue to be debated is what kind of a society has been created in which marginal men from urban slums take not just the law into their own hands but visit terror on hapless citizens. You don’t have very far to look: the outskirts of Delhi, beyond the Lutyens zone, is a free for all. Scofflaws rule the roost. They harass women; drive like lunatics (including city-certified public transport drivers); they also rain chaos and arbitrary violence on unsuspecting citizens. This is a society and culture in which the girl child is killed at birth; those that survive rarely make it past five years of age; the remnant end up being victims of dowry and bride burning. Very few girls born in India make a steady income and or attain social dignity. Dare I say it: if you are born a girl the chances of you having a normal life are minuscule.

These are the issues the heinous rape should have brought forth in public debate. Instead, the neo middle class protesters, egged on by the RSS, Arvind Kejriwal and Baba Ramdev,  focused on the government and its shortcomings. I dare these kids and their mentors to go protest against the “khap panchayats” of Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, never mind Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh; or the Maoists in the central spine of India; or the cultural fascists in south and central India. Easiest thing to do, especially if vested interests ply you with funds, is to assemble at India Gate and capture the attention of the marketing-driven media.

Looking at the chaos of cities and small towns and the complete neglect of rural populations, not just this government but going back to 1947, it is apparent the entire governance structure is about privilege and corruption. Even high-minded leaders like Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh are unable to make a dent; their writ simply doesn’t run. As the Singapore Prime Minister said in a recent interview, India is held in thrall by vested interests. What he was saying, in a polite way, is India suffers from a lapse of governance: bad roads, poor street lighting, discontinuous water supply, no sanitation, poor public health facilities, and dysfunctional schools.

In the end, there are two ideologies in India; one, the Congress that has its hands full just running the government peopled by know-nothings and do-nothings. Two, the others are all against the Congress and hoping to run the system, not for change and development; but for personal aggrandizement. What remains is the permanent government, the bureaucracy, and they have been having a ball since Rajiv Gandhi, with 220 seats refused to form the government in 1989. Since then the toadies have emerged from under their stones with caste and communal demands while the vested government officials simply twiddle their thumbs. Or milk their positions for rent in issuing licenses and permits.

So poverty endures in a country that is getting richer by leaps and bounds. No government will pay heed to middle class demands for better governance. The refrain is we represent the poor who have nothing so you should accept an abysmal quality of life. Even the governor of the Reserve Bank, who has succeeded in keeping interest rates higher than anywhere in the world, was quoted as saying, “Inflation is my concern because I represent the poor  people, who are most affected by spiraling prices.” Or some such words; never heard a central banker talk like this.

The cogent way to fight this government apathy and ineptitude, as Mahatma Gandhi did, is through lawful protest and constitutional propriety. The neo middle classes of India, schooled essentially in value-free disciplines such as engineering, management and vocational studies, have no appreciation for that. Their cause is just; their methods are hugely questionable.

An edited version of this article appeared on Times of India website on December 28, 2012.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Beyond the corruption battle

Let us not get carried away by the crusade of the self-appointed guardians of public interest

First, a "fast unto death" fueled by Information Technology; now, another one inspired by Yoga. Two of India's major exports have come home to roost, cheered by hyperventilating television news channels. Combating corruption is the larger cause that Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev advocate. And damned be him that first cries, 'Hold, enough!'

Never mind the Constitution; a pox on all politicians, Hazare says. The good people of India are on the move. By the sheer goodness of their lifestyles, by the shining nobility of their intent, they will cleanse the body politic. Girding his high-minded campaign is a bare-knuckle political demand swaddled in Gandhian homespun: give my chosen people a say in the framing of the Lokpal bill.

Who elected you? We nominated ourselves by virtue of Magsaysay awards and membership in "peoples' movements." What about the Constitution? Ours is a higher cause.

Ramdev's demands are too absurd to be given any sort of respectability. His potent mix of religiosity and postmodernism threatens, nevertheless, to overwhelm the Hazare protest. His followers are true believers, seeking to achieve perfect communion of the self with the universal truth.

In contrast, the cappuccino-swilling denizens of cyberspace, who form the bulk of Hazare's supporters, are causerati; tomorrow they will turn their attention to the dangers of cellphone use or the hazards of nuclear power. Small wonder then that Hazare, despite being "unwell", has said he will be present at Delhi's Ramlila Maidan in solidarity with the godman.

The question arises though: if civil society activists inspired by grandiosity and true believers mesmerised by a godman can demand a say in the way laws are made and the government is run, then why not business associations like the CII and Ficci? Or trade unions? Or for that matter, Rotary and Lions Clubs? What makes Hazare and Ramdev and their acolytes so special?

What is alarming about the hunger strikes is that the people who support them seem to have no time for political processes and constitutional restraint. Indian democracy has managed to negotiate the mind-numbing diversity that could have splintered the country; the Constitution is a charter that legitimises and separates the role of the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. Despite the obvious governance deficit, there prevails a modicum of the rule of law.

Changes are needed to usher in the idea of a government not as a master but in service of the people. A corollary to the notion of government as master is that of bureaucrats and politicians as a rentier class that extorts money from hapless citizens to provide services and permissions as favours rather than as due process. This is the source of corruption in all socialist systems where the dead hand of government smothers entrepreneurship and opportunities to make a dignified living.

India took a giant step two decades ago when it scrapped the licence-permit raj. Its emergence as a significant global player can be traced back to the reforms of 1991. Loosening controls is easier than the second stage of reform: to provide effective governance. Political stability is a key element in second-stage reforms.

In the UPA's first turn, we had the unseemly spectacle of an arrogant Left combining with a peeved BJP in an effort to oust the government over a foreign policy initiative: the strategic partnership with the US. The UPA survived and in the 2009 election went on to win bigger. The Left and the BJP saw their influence shrink dramatically.

But political uncertainty persisted as the UPA was confronted with accusations of corruption in telecom deals, the Commonwealth Games and various other projects. Today's challenges come not from opposition political parties but self-appointed guardians of the public interest: righteous activists and now, a slippery godman. Dealing with such groups is problematic because they don't abide by the Constitution but owe allegiance to a "higher cause".

TV news channels and to a lesser extent, the print media are obsessed by these protests. They convey the impression of a corruption-singed government at sea in the face of this 'uprising'. Overwhelmed by deafening din of TV reporters without the slightest sense of objectivity, I fled to the sanity of international journalism. There I found the following stories:

  • The Indian government has drawn up ambitious plans to double exports to $500 billion in the next three years. The trade-to-GDP ratio has already increased from 15% in 1990 to 35% today.
  • With supportive government policies, India's pharmaceutical sector has emerged as a global force, supplying low-cost, high-quality off-patent medicine to the developed as well as developing nations.
  • India has become the world center for 'frugal engineering', manufacturing low-cost products that are resistant to tough environments while maintaining high quality standards.

This is not to suggest that the protests should not be covered; only that it should not lead to a situation in which the adversarial nature of the relationship between the media and the government is twisted so much that a duly-elected government is portrayed an enemy of the people.

It would be fair if Indian journalists could also track other stories as well: of an India that is rapidly finding its metier on the world stage; of the rising aspirations of young India confronting the victim mindsets that enervate the older generation.

This article appeared in The Economic Times, June 4, 2011.

Copyright Rajiv Desai 2011