Political Alternative or a Military Coup- India Must Brace Itself

First things first. Although Germany had surrendered in May 1945, the WW2 in the Pacific came to an end only in August after the US had dropped nuclear bombs on Japan. It is a well-documented fact that Japan did not anticipate such devastating defeat and the subsequent occupation of the country by the US. The point is that things may occur unexpected. But the job of thinkers and analysts is to warn the stakeholders of any such probable events, and this is why discussing any possibility of a military coup in India makes sense, though this may be very distant and extremely unlikely.

But before we talk of this ‘strong’ term- coup d’état- let’s first consider what is relatively in the offing. That the Modi-led cabinet cannot rule prudently is a shared viewpoint of almost all non-partisan intellectuals and analysts. A seemingly-better-alternative-to-BJP wins in state polls even when BJP plays the faith card. Delhi and states in the South and even INC’s victory with slim margins in few states corroborate this argument. PM Modi, however, remains the preferred choice of most Indians and this is because of the lack of alternative in national politics.

On the other hand, the economy is in a freefall, joblessness is high, prices are rising and there is no visible improvement in law and order or in border situation as was anticipated by Indians when they boarded the Modi bandwagon. Any fair analysis will predict that the sole pillar of BJP support is the Hindu majoritarian political stance of the party. But do you think that the public at large will continue backing this stance in the long-run? That the ordinary man craves personal growth more than faith supremacy alone was validated in Delhi state elections. What will happen when the presently-concealed-by-oratory situation comes out in the open and the public realises that the Modi oratory isn’t enough for personal growth?

Here, we must consider the first part of this article’s heading- political alternative. Just one late development is enough to understand how badly the country needs an alternative. LJP, a party that was part of NDA in Bihar and allied with JD (U) and BJP to run the administration is likely to side with the winning coalition in 2020. In fact, politics has stooped so low that Nitish, who fought the elections alongside RJD and cursed BJP in the run up to 2015 state polls, shunned his allies to join hands with BJP. This is just one of many such immoral, unethical power games in the current political setup that have made/ will make the ordinary man disenchanted, but the lack of alternative is helping BJP and others maintain a winning streak.

Isn’t it understandable that this is the most suitable time for aspirants to give the country what it urgently seeks- a political alternative? The Emergency and 1977 general elections were a watershed moment; it was the dawn of regional parties and non-Congress PMs. What 2020 and next few years will bring is the similar opportunity for wise and ethical men to challenge the might of Modi and fill the void that has emerged due to INC’s inability to seize the moment. In coming days, we are set to see further GDP contraction and an invisible class struggle that can pave way for a new breed of politicians to reduce the gap between classes and bring inclusive development.

Now, it’s time to discuss the second part. In the absence of any such political alternative in near future, the countrymen may be left with no other choice than to feel disillusioned with civilian politics. The Modi cult or that of other BJP politicians isn’t eternal, and some late developments in the country- indeed, under the patronage of BJP- can decisively shift the mood of the public towards high-handed, centralized administration and this is when they might look at military as a good alternative. Take a look at Pakistan’s history- the first coup in 1958 was a product of events that included making Pakistan an Islamic Republic, failure of judiciary, cult figures in politics and military, and a general sentiment that politicians were weak and corrupt.

India is facing too many threats simultaneously, and it is in light of these threats that a military coup may in some distant future become a reality. From Chinese border incursions to Pakistan-sponsored terrorism and record-breaking unemployment rate and rising inflation, there are so many failures that presently stand concealed behind majoritarian politics, however, will in near future dominate the political discourse. Believe us, all the news- from unscientific ways to deal with the pandemic to silent subversion of the constitution to more-than-judicious veneration of military to growing class gap, where the state employee is an elite and private sector worker a nothing- we read and often pay no attention to will shape the landscape of the country.

And so as it seems, the country must decide on what it seeks and deserves- an alternative led by civilians with ethical intentions or a coup of some sort. We may choose to ignore it now, just like Japan ignored many of its misadventures in WW2, or the US in Vietnam War, but the national political scene is somewhat fragile and a course correction will take place- sooner or later.

BJP is a Regressive Idea- Take a Cue from Socrates

Terming anything regressive for the sake of it or to mislead the ordinary man is a different thing but doing it to defend the present and future interests of all citizens is different. Against this backdrop, let’s note why the presently dominating Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) is counter-productive to the socio-economic landscape of India. And this emanates from the way the party recruits its leaders, alongside the modus operandi that shrewdly markets and sells a glossy-looking but degenerative ideology.

First, the party has practically no leader who has the acumen to run the administration. Here, we need to know that oratory is a poles apart skill and cannot be likened to good administration. Had oratory been the indispensable attribute of a capable and productive leader, the founders of pyramid selling schemes would have delivered a perfect world where jobs were abundant and standard of living impeccable. In Gorgias- Socratic dialogue by Plato- Socrates argues that in comparison to an expert, a rhetorician is always ‘more convincing’ when persuading an ‘ignorant audience’. Socrates even equates rhetoricians with tyrants.

And it is here- in a nation that has yet to bring millions out of poverty and make health and education accessible for all- that BJP found the perfect breeding ground for rhetoric politics. With this approach, the party in its present form has recruited rhetoricians in its ranks, leaders who can be flawless at delivering speeches but clueless when it comes to run the administration. From CMs to cabinet ministers, the party has filled positions with leaders that bring to the table nothing but oratory and feel-good superficial ideas.

Second, the party is set to be even more regressive in years to come and there is a very strong argument in this favour. Presently, the high ranking officials in the party deploy hate as a means to garner support only when the need arises, typically around the time of elections. But the new recruits in the party, especially the youth seeking career in politics, know that the easiest way to make a quick impact is polarization and politicization of issues that place one community against the other. One does not need a vision to lift poor out of poverty but only an ability to incite hatred and bigotry.

Third, the party can never shed its roots that date back to pre-independence India. The predecessor to the party was Bhartiya Jana Sangh, the political arm of RSS. Founders included Syama Prasad Mukherjee, the man who was inducted by INC as minister even with his conflicting ideology. Mukherjee’s politics- where he opposed the Quit India Movement, demanded Bengal’s partition, and even allied with Muslim League to form provincial government- was not politics of good governance but that of rhetoric. The same legacy was carried forward by the man who was central to BJP’s ascendance on the national scene, Lal Krishna Advani. At a time when INC was losing ground, Advani exploited faith to garner support.

The problem here is that BJP leaders are now so inclined towards rhetoric that they have turned a blind eye to fallouts of such politics. Today, from health to education, orthodox and unfounded concepts have taken precedence over science and reasonableness. Here, vested interests are making profits even as the ordinary man is being deprived of any socio-economic progression. From unproven remedies for diseases to elite reinvigorating the dismantled caste order to dictatorial stance towards dissent, the ordinary man is losing, and the worst part is that the rhetorician has easily convinced him that all troubles will eventually do him some good.

BJP’s advance is counter-productive to the ordinary man. And Socrates’ critique of rhetorician is enough to understand this.

The Distorted Concept of State

Humans have an inherent propensity for forming associations. These groupings are formed to further the interest of members of the group, and this alone is the intent. It is then understandable that whosoever says that the group, and not its members, should hold precedence, should thrive no matter how bad the condition of members is has some vested interests. The point is when the fundamental unit of the group is its member, how can the group justify its existence without having done something good for all members?

Now consider modern states across the world. Indeed, there are no natural borders that separate them and residents of two or more states often share similar features including faith, colour and race. When people decided to form these modern groups called ‘state’, the intent was good. It was perceived that by having a separate national identity, demarcated borders and by having in place a defined system of governance, all constituents would thrive. Modern states, as recognized today, owe their existence to the same concept of forming a group for the furtherance of interests of members.

But the question is whether these modern states deliver on their promise? A few of them seem to have accomplished the objective. For example, Nordic countries have proved that states do act as facilitators of personal growth of constituents given that governance is good and inclusive growth is sought. But the same idea of having a state to better manage the affairs of the constituents has proved counter-productive in many other cases. The key reason behind this failure is glorification of the concept of nationalism, so much so that the citizens of modern states have been taught, often by propaganda, to believe that their interests hold no value when a choice has to be made between their well-being and that of the nation.

While it may seem a little difficult to understand how this distorted concept of state and nationalism has deprived the ordinary man of development, let’s understand this with an easy example. When some men join forces to work for an enterprise, the hierarchy is comparable with that in the state. The manager acts as a bridge between labourers and owners, and the objective of the enterprise is to generate revenue for the betterment of all these stakeholders. Workers must abide by the norms as citizens abide by the laws of the country. The owner is entitled to some revenue and must distribute some among these workers. But what if the owner seeks absolute precedence of the interests of the enterprise over that of workers?

Indeed, the enterprise can produce and sell more should the workers opt for extended shifts. Indeed, the profits can be higher should the workers stick to same wages despite an available possibility of pay hikes. The owner, when workers commit themselves blindly and not rationally to the enterprise, becomes the sole beneficiary. And the same happens when citizens of the state are compelled to place the state above everything else. What happens is elected representatives or the monarch colludes with capitalists and other powerful men to deprive the ordinary man of what he otherwise legitimately deserves.

The revenue that is collected in the form of taxes levied on even most basic needs is spent less on the betterment of citizens and more on fortifying the state. The money that can be used for health, education, sanitation and such critical aspects is diverted to buying more weapon systems. The state that was formed by its members with a view to prosper and live a dignified life becomes more a liability and less an asset.

Consider the state of India that was formed in its present form when Indians acquired the right to self-rule from the British. The Indian Constitution begins with ‘WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA’ and then declares the intent to constitute the state with a view to further the interests of the people. Indeed, it is here that we must know that people hold precedence over the state. And when the makers decided to have fundamental rights as justiciable rights and fundamental duties as symbolic, they once again made people primary and the state secondary. It was the very intent of the makers to remind the people of India that the state was constituted for them, that they were the building blocks and not the other way around.

Slowly, over the course of years and with different political parties at the helm, the country acquired the status of being a regional powerhouse and then a strong player in the international scene. The country now has a nuclear arsenal and modern military equipment to boast of but what about the promise that was made to the ordinary man when the state was formed? Was this ordinary man told in advance that he would have to sacrifice his child’s education, health and access to clean drinking water, good roads and such other basic necessities in order to let the state achieve hegemony? Was he told that the elite and the powerful will live lavishly even as tens of millions will stare at poverty even in the 21st century?

India fared still better. Countries, for example North Korea, that chose to give the people the least and the state the maximum failed miserably. But that is no excuse for China, India, the US or others to exploit the innocence (read ignorance) of ordinary members of the respective state and further the interests of the state alone. Ultra-nationalism cannot be the tool to divert most of the resources that belong to the people for the exploitation by the elite in the name of ‘national security’ and ‘state dominance’. Citizens, often ignorant that they made the state by agreeing to be a part, deserve to be educated about the same.

PS: National security does matter and it can never be argued that this field can be left neglected. But when the choice is between acquiring latest weapon system (during peace times) and laying of roads (to connect the hamlet to schools), the latter must be preferred.

New Farm Bills are reminder of British Raj and Gandhi’s Champaran Satyagraha

India is a free country led by representatives elected by voters. In theory, this means that the last man is not only represented in the legislature, his interests are also taken care of. The new farm bills that have now become a binding law break this trust on many counts. And while the common man is only aware of the debate around ‘freedom to sell the produce anywhere in the country’, there is so much more that lies beneath.

The ruling party is busy convincing farmers that they are now ‘free’ to sell their produce anywhere and this would eventually mean getting better remuneration. Let’s consider this aspect later and first talk about what they are calling as contract farming – a way for farmers to enter into highly remunerative deals with corporates. Really? Will the farmer win? Go a little back in the past to see how OYO Rooms- an Indian hospitality chain- lured hoteliers, mostly with modest resources, into signing so-called ‘lucrative’ and ‘revenue multiplying’ deals.

Hoteliers were relatively better aware of commercial and contractual aspects as a major chunk came from cities. In the end, however, the hoteliers feel cheated. Many have alleged that OYO abused its dominant position and manipulated contractual obligations in their own interests, thereby leaving hotel owners with losses. Think of the farmer. Barring a select few, most of these do not have even basic understanding of contracts and laws governing them. Do you expect the corporate to enter into a morally and ethically equitable contract with the farmer? Indeed, this is nothing but wishful thinking.

Now also consider how the British forced Indian peasants into growing indigo. The Mahatma’s first major agitation in India had this issue at its core. The peasants of Champaran pleaded with Gandhi to become their voice against oppressive methods employed by British landlords. What do you expect the corporates will do? Will they even care about soil losing its nutrients due to unsustainable farming practices? Will they ask the farmer to grow crops that are best-suited to the region or those that can fetch lucrative returns? Will they adjust to uncertainties in farming including monsoon or will they abuse the contract to protect their own financial interest?

Anyone convincing the farmer that contract farming will open floodgates of innovation, better infrastructure and remuneration is doing the same thing as was done by the PM when he declared a so-called 21-day war against coronavirus. Did coronavirus go away? Did demonetization put an end to black money? Did GST prove a boon to small businesses? Forget promises and assurances and think rationally this time.

Lastly, any discussion on the so-called new freedom to farmers to sell produce outside of APMC premises is flawed. This was already happening and a few corporates were buying directly from farmers. Yes, there were charges imposed by state governments but that is the discretion of state governments in India. When a packet of Parle-G can have a portion of tax in its retail price, are APMC levies so unfair? The central government, by bringing the new law, has first, impinged on state list subjects; and then, has given a new glossy-looking sanction to trade outside of APMC only to make corporates appear more acceptable.

The farmer community is at loss, realise it before it is too late.

Nothing Less than a Class Struggle is what India Needs

Answer this. Was it the society that led to a nation or a nation that gave birth to the society? The society, with man as the primary building block, is at the heart of anything that came up later- nations or governments. Men, who gradually moved from hunting and gathering to agriculture and permanent settlement, came up with the modern ideas of demarcated borders, nationalism, a well-defined system of governance- be it the monarch or elected representatives- for their own well-being, and there’s nothing unlawful or unethical in what they sought.

And so here we are today- with elected governments and many other systems in place to call ourselves a society run by rules. But where’s progress of the basic unit- the common man? One needs to realise the reality. Public sector bank staffers treat common depositors as undesirable liabilities; government agencies are yet to come clean on the way they serve the common man; public transport system is overwhelmed; such basic amenities as roads, clean water, electricity are a luxury even in today’s India; and the press is busy reporting subjects that have least bearing on the lives of common people.

At the same time, however, the common man has been given some superficial things so that he can overlook his own pain and distress. He gets blinded when the rich and powerful- be it the politician or the capitalist- asks him to think of the country first, his faith first, his caste or sect first before his own progression. The famous words of John F Kennedy, former US President, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country’, are nothing but a political slogan and at best suited to countries where the common man has at least attained some progress with respect to his basic household needs.

Take developing countries, including India, where millions are poor and suffer at the expense of the rich. Consider this- in the ongoing pandemic, countless school-going students are being deprived of education, which has become a privilege only for those with means- a smartphone and internet connection. Migrant labourers were brazenly shunned by the political class even as the Prime Minister was tweeting about the benefits of yoga. The fund constituted to ‘fight the pandemic’ saw generous donations from business houses that gradually raised prices of goods and services to pass on the burden. The common man was poor and has been left poorer.

Medical services are inaccessible to the common man; commodities ranging from petrol to milk are adulterated; medicines are exorbitantly priced to cover the perks of doctors and retailers; the agents responsible for fair distribution of foodgrains at subsidized rates are becoming richer by depriving the poor; much more is happening in the lives of the common man- from the very poor to middle class- that is nothing but breaking of the trust that was placed when we shifted from being a society where resources belonged to all to being a nation. The rich are becoming richer while the common man struggles with no social and financial security.

Amid all these pains, let’s remind you that any call for religious or caste supremacy is a sham. These are things cleverly designed by the elite- including politicians, state employees, capitalists and rich traders- to keep the common man busy even as they plunder the country. India today needs a class struggle- ethical, non-violent and inclusive- more than it needs the so-called other things as advocated by the elite. And this struggle has to deliver social and financial progress of the basic component of nation- the common man- by combining the good, rational concepts of capitalism, socialism and communism.

proclamation of financial emergency – the only way out of this nationwide crisis

let’s talk real. majority of citizens are struggling with their finances. factories, offices, shops are shut. since there is no way for anybody, save those employed with various governments and government bodies, to make money, the onus lies on governments to provide relief. agreed, a few big corporates will pay salaries during the lockdown period from their reserves and some bosses driven by ethics and morality will also do so.

but india is a big, big country. nearly 90 percent of total workforce is employed in the informal sector and most of the employers will find it impossible to pay their workers due to nil cash flows and unavailability of reserves earmarked for such situations.

amid all this, the governments are charging for electricity and other supplies. they are doing so since the employees of the state and state-owned enterprises will be paid their salaries in full. but is this justified? at a time when companies are laying off workers and not paying salaries due to exigencies that are beyond the control of employers, how can the state pay its employees in full? how can state-owned enterprises, from public sector undertakings to public sector banks to institutes and bodies under various ministries pay their employees in full?

and if they are doing so, this is against the principles of equity. moreover, the state doesn’t earn from commercial activities. a bulk of its revenues comes from taxes and other levies. even the poorest of poor contributes to the exchequer by paying indirect taxes when a bucket or biscuit is bought. it is this money that is used to pay the state staff.

let’s talk about public sector banks. although they undertake commercial activity, we know they rarely do so in the best way. this is the reason they are supported regularly from budgetary resources to save them from sinking. institutes, bodies and associations under various governments and ministries too are funded from budgetary resources.

now when the very foundation of the budget, the taxpayer, is under severe stress, is the state justified in paying its employees in full? although a handful of state governments have declared some cuts in such expenditures, they aren’t enough to tackle the crisis. the only answer is the government proclaiming financial emergency by using powers under article 360 of the indian constitution. after all, the provision has been added to tackle emergencies and the current crisis is deserving of such action since what is happening is unprecedented.

article 360 gives power to the state to issue direction and “any such direction may include a provision requiring the reduction of salaries and allowances of all or any class of persons serving in connection with the affairs of a state.”

nation’s resources belong to every citizen, rich or poor. and hence, equity must be brought without any delay.

good governance in the times of covid-19

at the time of writing this, a few more than 27,000 samples have been tested in india, a country of more than 1.3 billion. of these, more than 800 have returned as positive for coronavirus. but this may not be the only concern. we are short on testing kits and test centres and the government’s and other authorities’ response to the crisis is worrisome.

let’s start with the announcement that the prime minister will address the nation at 8pm on 19 March, 2020. this announcement came in advance and gave enough fodder to rumour mills. the pm has a history of causing panic at 8, one can recall the demonetization episode. an advance announcement of pm address triggered panic buying and people stockpiled. in fact, the pm and his team of advisors failed to realise this would happen.

then came the declaration of a ‘janta curfew’ on sunday. will this be a curfew, a lockdown or something else, nobody knew. without planning anything, this went ahead. many people misunderstood the clapping thing and thought it would lead to an end to the coronavirus crisis. many states extended this janta curfew and made no provisions with respect to those not in their homes, especially migrant workers.

trains were halted and buses too, leaving migrant workers no way to return to their homes. this came in the wake of losing jobs since economic activity has literally stopped. a few days later, pm addressed the nation yet again at 8 pm and declared a poorly-planned lockdown till april 14. what was intended was preventing people from leaving homes and contracting the infectious disease. however, exactly the opposite of this happened. people gathered outside grocery stores, medical shops to buy essentials.

then came another announcement, this time from the reserve bank of india. that term loan emi will be deferred for 3 months was announced and every news house bought this on its face value without reading the fine print or without thinking that if all emis are suspended will indian banks be able to sustain?

moreover, prudence suggests that allowing moratorium to public sector, government and mnc employees who shall be paid in full even during lockdown is unjustifiable. will this not adversely impact banks’ balance sheets and shatter priority sector lending? but, at the time of writing this, there is still no clarity.

good governance in the times of crisis means planning and management, not mere presentation and oratory. tens of thousands or even more migrant labourers are out on the roads walking to their home states. are they not vulnerable? central, state and district authorities are not on the same page and nobody knows how to exactly implement lockdown. the police is seen beating up people who have stepped outside of their homes, even when they may have done so to buy essentials.

we, indeed, elected good marketers, orators, but not good planners, good managers.

the concept of ‘crony middleism’

crony capitalism is a much deliberated and researched subject. with the rise of democracy, capitalism has lost its past authoritative hold on the world economy or on economy of individual nations. it may prevail in its present debilitated form in some countries of west asia or africa, even asia, what has superseded it is the ‘crony middleism’ that prevails in contemporary world, allowed in the garb of democracy and fundamental rights.

the middle class of all developed countries and of developing ones has become a formidable force, politically as well as financially. laws are devised, amended, repealed and most policy actions are taken in the backdrop of responses that emanate from the middle class.

this so-called cluster relishes exotic luxuries once enjoyed only by nobles and rich. they drive air conditioned cars, own houses, enroll in famed educational institutions and are then easily absorbed in the job market that is driven more by individual charisma than by capability.

agreed, this doesn’t call for any knee-jerk change in social order, nor does this invite any usurping of positions held by middle class, a thought over desired egalitarianism is, however, called for.

let’s look at this phenomenon in a more realistic manner.

you can access websites of leading news houses and almost every headline would either involve news that impacts the middle class, or the news itself will cover an incident that occurred with a member of this class.

farmers die in hundreds and thousands, families are reeling under the vicious cycle of debt; however what makes headlines is the abduction of a middle class household’s daughter from outside a metro station and murder of a goa perfumer.

it is the indifference that we have developed toward the problems faced by poor which doesn’t allow us to look beyond repo rate cuts and service tax enhances; the issues of private moneylenders and scarce credit facilities for impoverished families take a backseat.

child of a poor father has been scuffling with inefficiencies in government schools, the poor herself is being mishandled at state hospitals, the news, however, talks about delhi university’s cut-off and hillary clinton’s health. the irony is that it is not the rich who is holding the progress of poor, the real culprit today is the middle class, the concept hence emerges, ’crony middleism’.

make indian roads nonthreatening, 5 crucial do’s

numbers reflecting fatalities and incapacitation, owing their occurrence to indian roads, are alarming. they are presented in the parliament, deliberated, any paradigm shift in road infrastructure and safety element, however, takes a backseat, for not many people can be polarized on this issue, political will thus remains lacking.

here are five proposals that can yield outcomes, progressive and unrelenting.

first, and in the backdrop that public spending on infrastructure is the talk of the town, building public dispensaries at every rationally determined kilometers of state and national highways will serve health as well as response to accidental injuries demand simultaneously. they be accorded status of infrastructure and be part of mou signed with the builder.

second, and this in backdrop of rising fossil fuel consumption and shift of sentiments towards renewable energy, centre is to devise a model law for states incorporating need of electric scooters corridor in all district and state road projects.

third, while mgnrega and rail projects are constructively using space technology in determining actual work accomplished, road projects be monitored using satellites and any damages to roads, which further accidents, be triggered to builder and worked upon at the earliest. sub-standard roads be recognized and builders brought to book.

four, heavy vehicles are the main culprits in most road accidents, they be contained in number by moving freight from roads to railways. sops be announced for those shifting from roads to railways or inland waterways, which can subsequently be withdrawn once economies of scale and sustainability are realized.

last, over-speeding vehicles not be allowed to escape penalties for our vigilance infrastructure is weak; frame rules for automobile makers for inclusion of a device in all passenger vehicles to track over-speed and collaborate with state technology apparatus in sending penalty tickets automatically to defaulter.