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Chaotic Churning : What Is Ahead?

LIVING WITH NATURE IN THE MODERN WORLD - MISSION FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

CHAOTIC CHURNING : WHAT IS AHEAD ?

The unconventional and straight speaking John Kenneth Galbraith, former US Ambassador to India, described India as a “functioning anarchy”. He probably did it fondly. That India which he described was over four decades ago. India since then has passed through several stages including a period of emergency and several coalitions which lasted for brief periods. It is amidst these processes, India quietly jettisoned its autarkic socialist economic system to follow the market-economics (1991 liberalisation). This was done amidst deep financial crisis by a minority govt. By then the global changes were drastic. India’s traditional friendly State, the Soviet Union had collapsed. The neighbouring Afghanistan was falling into the hands of religious extremists, unnoticed China was growing very fast after embracing market economics in 1980.

Looking back, what happened during the two decades of liberalisation and globalisation, which also coincided with ICT revolution world wide and in India, it appears to be a dream world. Suddenly the consumer-goods-starved India was flooded with many consumer goods from all over the world! A country which waited for 3 to 4 years after booking to get a Bajaj scooter or an Ambassador car, was flooded with many automobile assembled/part-made-in-India! So was with the explosion of TV channels. Mind boggling expansion of professional colleges. No wait time for telephones or cards or LPG cylinders. 

For the first time Indians started seeing so many wide roads, linking India as a golden quadrilateral. Textile boom made almost all Indians wearing better clothes. No wonder, slogans like India shining started appearing during 2003. 

NOT ALL SHINING!

Amidst these developments, India “weathered” many internal turmoils. Cross-border-terrorism was on the rise; with Kargil war, at peaked. The frenzy of demolition of Babri Masjid (1992) leading to Bombay blasts (1993). Also increase of Naxalite violence……… A number of poor people also were lifted to lower middle class levels; aspirations of the middle classes soared very high; but severe poverty remained especially because of the liberalising powers-that-be-were captured by the Maya of IT and totally ignored agriculture and Manufacturing. They dreamt of India’s leap frog to Services economy. Even for serious institutional and social cancer like corruption which was also growing leaps and bounds, their solutions was e-governance!

The ‘anarchy’, within Indian institutions, social and economic systems were hidden from the public memory, and the reports of the analysts/experts, and the media hypes! Sensex became the new watch word for national performance as it was with cricket matches.

Many NRI (Non-Resident Indians) flew all over India to give various forms of advice to make India a super-power, and to usher into “knowledge economy”. Many spiritual gurus emerged as well in the economic exuberance of the rich and middle class.

Black money ‘freely’ flowing into (and generated continuously) the Indian economy, was a great lubrication to keep the growth machinery moving. It partly redistributed the ill-gotten money in expensive social shows like opulent marriages, great functions of leaders and award ceremonies, fuelling electoral machineries and “purchasing the powers-that-be” to have privileged access for themselves. The “connected” became more “connected” through Indian black money that was available globally.

As per the global Financial Integrity (GFI reports (Times of India 13-12-2013) in the decade 2002-2011, India lost a staggering Rs. 12.7 lakh crores (344 billion) worth of back money created through various illicit and criminal ways as outflow. This worked out to an average of Rs. 1.6 lakhs crore outflow for every year of the decade (about Rs. 1333/- per Indian per year!). During 2011 over Rs. 4 lakh crore worth of black money was Illegally taken out of India, as per a new report of GFI (that is about Rs. 3333/- per Indian per year) This report is based on tracking global money transactions. What is done purely as cash as in drug and human trafficking etc., is much more!

What a colossal waste of wealth! Had it been within India and flowing even illegally as opulent expenditure, a number of poor/middle class Indians would have benefited and in the jobs so created!

Can we call such colossal creation of black money and its outflow as a "functioning anarchy” or “organised kleptocracy”? Is Indian people’s khazaana infinitely deep??

Media and activists only shout about the corruption and scams.  It is being narrated as “thriller stores”. Root causes are not addressed. But to get political gains, govt started wasting precious tax money (only a miniscule per centage of India pay income tax) in populist schemes such as giving free PC’s to class 12 students; free colour TV’s; now even daily cheap food cooked / served by govt, free wages as an unemployment guarantee, money for marriage of girl, etc... in addition to various subsidies for LPG, petrol, diesel, electricity, water etc... are they meant to reduce the perceived “anarchic anger” of the people against the politicians and bureaucrats? Or to buy their votes to come to power again? How long can these sustain?

SLOW DOWN AND IMPLOSION

Now the economic growth has plummeted because of several such huge misdeeds. There is loss of jobs of many persons who were in reasonable jobs, before; new jobs are hard to create. Populist doles cannot fullfill what can be achieved through self-respecting hard work and good incomes earned thereof, thus adding to the self-esteem of people.

So India appears seriously chaotic. Supreme constitutional bodies like Parliament (Lok Sabha and Rajyasabha) and State Legislative assemblies are creating scenes worse than street fights. Most constitutional niceties have been dumped. Some constitutional authorities not only do not practise the institutional niceties but also transgress on “turfs” of others. Courts are already crushed under the weight of litigations but also have to enter into the cases filed through such constitutional transgressions. Allegations have become common place, filling media space. Most TV channels do not appear to be news channels but look like street fights in the name of panels with the anchors going frenzy and appealing to the 1.2 billion of people of India to judge as if all of them understand English or Hindi.

In the process Indian elite society at least, seems to be imploding with their own one-point agendas. Indian govt appears paralysed to take anyeconomic or foreign policy initiatives because one or other state government opposes, something or another. Also most of what is happening around the world appears to be irrelevant for Indian elite: Middle-East, Syria, Ukraine, Nigeria, Central African Republic, Myanmar, Nepal, Bangladesh, Venezuela, Iran, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Europe, Japan etc.,

Media and middle class spend more time on the Italian Marine case or the case of an Indian diplomat! Earlier we had seen the jingoistic campaign against Norway, over the custody of two children, as per their laws. The case ended up as a comic tragedy! It was before that a “war against” racism with Australia! Now we have unabated crimes against women, men / boys of different looking ethnic origins etc., in the national capital!

Almost in any place in India, traffic and normal life can be stopped by any group including by the parties which rule! Chaos in the national capital was heralded by some as a saviour of India, emerging with alternate politics. The break down of day-to-day law-and order situation coupled with “free movement” of various terrorists who can strike at will, does not augur well to attract investors  (apart from chaotic and some time draconian tax administration).

Let us look at a recent report (23 Feb 2014 - Times of India): There is only 1 police person for 1000 Indians. On the other hand, there 1 NGO for 600 Indians. Since a number of states have not given report to CBI, it is possible that there is 1 NGO for 500 Indians. That is, 2 NGO’s per 1 police person! Is it a positive sign of cooperative social regeneration in India? Or a parasitical phenomena for using loop holes in various tax laws and also as a base for various forms of activism? How many of them are conduits for flow of money from foreign entities? Unfortunately researched and authenticated data on these will be hard to come by. There will of course be a few very good NGO’s.

But the ratio of police personnel for number of citizen is very poor; recommended figure by UN is 1 for 222 people. However a question is whether just a mere increase of police improve the law-and-order situation? Will women be safer? Will crimes come down? Or will it increase police Raj? Or increase the number of cases in the courts, only to languish there? With many suspects being under judicial custody for years without hearing?

Unfortunately, we need to list many questions because in the “churning” that is taking place chaotically, we are unable to get clear answers. Also Indian social science researchers seem to keep away from studying real Indian issues scientifically. Therefore we all form opinions and not statistically derived clues and causal connections.

WHAT ABOUT THE BULKY BASE?

I have a deep suspicion that most of the “chaotic churning, we see around us, the litigations, PIL’s, allegations, protests, dharnas etc., are limited to the elite class and middle class, occasionally drawing the lower middle class and poor persons for big morchas or as audiences for the big election campaigns. The poor in the bulky base and lower middle class persons, even those who are recipients of populist doles really know in their hearts, that they cannot take solace in these chaotic churning processes. They are born with burdens of poor and hard lives, in their families ad during their childhood. Despite decades of slogans, promises and propaganda, actual improvement in their lives comes about extremely slowly-be it for economic upgrading or social improvement. They may see the TV fights of political and elite class, also shown in many Indian language channels, but may be treating them as a movie show!

When I go to the interiors of India or Tier 2, tier 3 towns and talk to the people there, their interest in the so called big “emotional” issues stoked by the state leaders or shown in TV media, is practically negligible. They may have their local politics to “chew upon” when they gossip. Perhaps they may be stirring up only during the 2 to 3 months of major election campaigns to discuss some issues. Even then it is unlikely that they appreciate what goes on in the national channels all 365 days or the “chaotic churnings” in New Delhi or Hyderabad or somewhere else. Even fears from a terrorist attack or major rail accident or communal clashes, may not be bothering bulk of them. Because they have to earn their daily living. Most of them have learnt that the divisive or vocal politics or big noises about Bills, make hardly any difference for them.

This is a sense which I get when I visit or by talking to people who go to interiors of India. In one sense, it is a good news. Because the cancer of depressive pessimism, and intolerant passions and a craze for domination which are present in the dialogues of the elites and the media do not appear to have spread to them.

AGITATIONS IN URBAN CENTRES:

Another empirical fact that supports this hypothesis is the fact none of the “protest attempts” have evolved into bigger movements despite repeated show of scenes and discussions held in the TV media. Anna Hazare’s fasting did create some swelling of crowds, but they were mostly from middle class form around Delhi area and some might have been transported from other metros. Again the four day chaos and din at Delhi before the Republic Day, fizzled out.

At best there can be one or two days of “successful” Bhandhs in cities because people fear violence to their vehicles or buses. It is all over and back to normal after that. Rural India and smaller towns are unaffected by it.

Most of the “agitation” leaders are either forgotten or “absorbed” into the “chaotic system”. In that sense it is a “functioning chaos”! But the damage to the governance system due to these chaotic and unpredictable agitations is high, though most of the chaos are really localised in the national capital or in some specific localities as it was in Koodankulam. Even for the tragic rape-murder case in Delhi, which resulted in spontaneous agitations, it was mostly confined to Delhi.  An ordinance was rushed through. But many tragic and atrocious rape-murders continue to take place in Delhi and other cities of India (we do not get to know the cases from villages and town, as they are unreported or get buried in local language press). I wonder what happened to the swelling crowds? There was none even for the atrocious killing of a Arunachal boy. The tragic episode has been buried in TV shows on racism and demand for anti-Racism bill. One demand during the Delhi rape case, which was instant justice (which actually meant for most of those who demanded it, was instant hanging of the rape-accused), is yet to take place. The cases are with courts. So also for many other rape-murder cases which took place later; in some case even the culprits have not been booked. 

Similarly even after the swell of Anna Hazare fasting, later passing of the Lok Pal Bill and a corruption-agenda based party coming to “power” in Delhi State, life of ordinary middle class person has not changed; petty corruptions for day-to-day lives still continue. Also those who agitated against corruption continue to pay such corruption, to get things done!

Thus the hard realities of India – the hard and uncertain lives of the persons in the Bulky Base and the lower middle class Indians, as well as the basic economic insecurity of the middle persons (which will prevent them from long drawn agitational paths) – are keeping India “stable” despite many “chaotic churnings” that take place in the political and other elite circles. Only time I had seen a large “people-student” movement in most parts  of India, was during the JP (Jaya Prakash Narayan) movement during the early 1970’s. It was more in the North and West than the South and east. Even in Jammu and Kashmir, protest movements and stone throwing fizzle out after a few days.

Seeing such empirical information, we can conclude that the “chaotic churning” being all around is unlikely to turn into mass movement or a mass anarchy or mob violence, as it appears to be in Bangkok, Ukraine, Bangladesh, Egypt etc., perhaps some external forces are exploiting the deep divisions within these countries and actively supporting their “crash” into “chaotic conditions”. To that extent, India can be considered a much stable democracy.

A GLIMPSE OF OTHER COUNTIRES

Functional stability for countries like Egypt, Pakistan, Thailand etc..., not to mention those which are under an autocratic rulers, are provided by the armed forces. For the fledgling and fragile democracies be it Bangladesh, Nepal, Ukraine etc... the role of the developed nations (west) are questionable. Human rights or some other issues of recent past, are invoked to create for its rulers, some serious divisive troubles.

While liberal ethos and democratic values of these western countries within their own national territories have to be appreciated, their own record of human rights or any other liberal values (which they vouch as their highest principles) vis-à-vis peoples of other countries are miserable and contemptible.

About five decades ago the poisonous herbicidal attack, USA did on Vietnam is to be seen in numbers: 34 C-123 huge transport aircraft, sprayed 75 million litres of herbicides including 40-million litres of dioxin on a small country to destroy its virgin forests in which Vietnamese guerrillas operated. There were so much of diotoxin in those 34 aircraft, (which were later used by US Air force) that their own personnel were affected! (Times of India 24-2-2014 on Project Orange); this is to quote a recent reference. It is well known and documented. The Iraq and Afghan wars, and the support to Syrian rebels, have serious violations of lives of civilians, still no leader or administrator from USA will be prosecuted for human right violations, because it is done in the USA’s national interest. Let us not forget that Taliban was created and supported by USA to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

But they prosecute “as per their law” leaders of other countries; denying them visas; or issuing court orders on them to appear in a US Court! They move UN Court! They move UN against the Heads of states of other developing countries who have protected their democracies and governance systems against severe and savage terrorist ad secessionist forces.

So the external world, for USA is to be subservient to its national interest. It has the Right to invade the privacy Human Rights of other countries, even its elected leaders, even from its ally Europe! Other European countries have similar double standards. They begin a huge propaganda war against countries for relatively petty human right charges. Some of their rating agencies are pressed into service for bringing out figures: India is rated very low (near the bottom) in freedom of press!

There is no point in being moralistic about it.  We need not have to take high moral grounds and preach to the world as we did during the 1950’s and 1960’s. What is respected world wide is the strength of the economy, the Agility of the Security Systems (includes military para military, police etc.,) and the unity of the people.

In the current world of global communications, the new world war (which I believe has begun with so many flash points of country wide “civil society” agitations in many crucial countries encircling Russia, China and perhaps even India, Brazil and few other emerging economies) has begun for world domination. This war is “the war to be fought in the minds of men/women and even children” to modify the famous Churchillian phrase on future wars. That is why we as people and country have to be aware of these external developments and not get lost in the impressive “chaotic churning”.

WHAT IS AHEAD?

Even during “normal” times, future is very difficult to predict.  While writing this piece, I saw a quote from Vladimir Ilyanovich Lenin “There are decades where nothing happens and there are weeks where decades happen”.

During the first decade after India’s independence, there was more of euphoria of great freedom even while dealing with devastating human tragedies of partition of the country subsequent decade saw the establishment of many new institutions like IIT’s, ISRO, and expansion of other Science and technology (S&T) infrastructure. There was beginning of Green revolution and setting up of many major public sector industry. During this period India was also jolted to the realities of geopolitics through a humiliating defeat in the hands of China.

The subsequent decade (1967-1977) saw tumultuous domestic politics, emergency etc., But geopolitically there was a euphoria with the creation of Bangladesh (partition of Pakistan) with the active assistance by India. Economic growth was slow due to the commanding heights of license – permit – quota – inspector raj and heavy tax regimes. The seeds sown and saplings grown of corruption and crime in public life due to politics – bureaucracy – crime - business nexus started growing as big thorny trees affecting day-to-day lives of people, the middle class which had gown to some size by then started grumbling, sometimes agitating. Workers in the organised sector (who were really the labour aristocracy in an India where most of the labour was in unorganised sector) showed their power through the strikes and gheroas called by the unions.  It was also depicted as he dream of the socialist India. The subsequent decade slid through with feeble attempts to open up Indian economy, that period also saw major scams and loss of faith in the politicians – bureaucrats. Things drifted with chaotic changes in govts.

Then came the liberalisation of 1991 and “IT revolution” about one and half decades of rapid growth, and resultant consumerism, grew the middle class to a size much bigger than many countries in the world. It was a great attraction for global investors/companies and also for Indian private sector.

The rapid economic growth created more wealth; therefore more taxes. The coalition at the centre and its advisers during the past decade as well as the State level leaders felt that the collected tax money can be given as doles to the still existing huge Bulky Base (BB). These persons at BB can be given an impression that it is the leaders themselves who are giving their personal wealth! Then the political leaders and their advisers can perpetuate as rulers. But the process created inflation, following the simple laws of economics: “free” money flowing into the economy without creating some products, creates however demand; the demand exceeds supply rapidly, thus prices rise! Also the tax money spent on unproductive, non-asset crating tasks does not add out economic growth, nor becomes the reproductive wealth” (Please recall the  Modern Mantra given by late Shri. C Subramaniam, as we had pointed out earlier several times).

The middle class is hit with a double whammy: slow down of economy and galloping inflation. Many of those who are in job now do not get better increments and new aspirants do not have job openings. Thus this class which had tolerated corruption and the hassles of Indian Govt rules/laws is no longer able to tolerate the mega scams associated with their political leaders, and their patrons in the private sector (crony capitalism is the new word getting popular, though during the licence-permi-quota-inspector raj decades, it is only the crony capitalist who can get the licence easily and be able to “manage the oppressive tax/approval/inspection environment!)

Probably had the economy maintained its growth rate close to 9% if not double digit, these middle class persons would have tolerated the mega scams, as another such thing which has existed in independent India for decades.

For the upper, middle class, the slow down and inflation, affected their new earned lifestyles. They have to cut down on many ‘goodies’, they were getting used to; they feel seriously deprived! Auto loans etc., started getting costlier.

For the investors, the “erratic” behaviour of tax officials (as the investor perceives) added a fuel to the already existing hassles! So they quietly move away from India, adding further problems for a recovery from the slow down.

So the future suddenly started looking bleak for many of upper, middle and lower middle class persons. What is ahead of us? They need to chase some devils always!! Thus there are many sporadic outbursts and some local violence.

But as we have argued in the earlier parts of this write up, such an attitude of total pessimism has not yet come to them. They have a hope in the “fundamentals” of India, in whatever vague terms, they imagine it to be. That is the reason that they are in search of a “leader”.

Most of them do not understand nor care to learn about the niceties of constitutional govt. That is worrisome because such an attitude by large sections of privileged classes can lead to “loss of democracy”. 

But in the name of democracy, if a few “activists” or ambitions “opinion leaders” try to spread “chaotic churning” with tall promises of “total instant clean up” as well as  immediate relief to the pressures of life through many unsound measures such as slashing tariffs, increasing subsidies etc., there is a possibility that such “leaders” may get some sizeable votes and seats in the Parliament. They can then continue to degrade the parliamentary institutions to further abysmal levels. Problems will not be solved, but the frustrations of the people will be stoked further.

If the votes are divided between many parties with many aspirant “Prime Ministers”, it could be another form of chaos in governance, perhaps worse than any coalition, India had witnessed before, including the present ruling ones. If on the contrary, if these leaders settle down and bury their ambitions for a common cause of lifting the economy from the current morass, thus creating a feel good factor amongst all classes: Rich & Super Rich; Upper, Middle and Lower  Middle classes and the Bulky Base (without doing divisive politics), then India can get into a better trajectory with the “Chaotic Churning” being converted as a dynamic momentum for all Indians.

This can also happen if a single party or a single pre-electoral formation (preferably than post-electoral combination) get a comfortable majority; perhaps then India has greater chances of moving forward and upward in the economic and social uplift of its people. Again it depends on the leadership qualities of the persons who will form a collective team.

Therefore a lot depends upon what happens in the next few weeks. If things turn out in a way to enable forming a cohesive teams with strong commitment to curb the chaos through positive and productive actions, which will engage all Indians towards self-respect-enhancing economic activities, then India’s next few decades would have been shaped, in those few weeks.

I don’t want to spell out again as to what will  happen, if such a cohesive situation does not arise, as enough has been said in the earlier paragraphs about the dangers of continuing chaos and especially the continued loss of hope in future by the middle class, rich as well as the bulky base.

For reasons which have been given before, the ‘chaotic churning’ is yet only temporary in India; it has not yet settled as a societal attitude and feeling of hopelessness. If a strong leadership teams emerge post-election, soon India will transition to a ‘functioning anarchy’ first (during the transitionary clean-up process) and then towards a stable and disciplined India in which all Indians can realise their full potential and enjoy a good life.

Enjoying a good life with incomes earned from self-respecting work, will increase self-esteem of people.

May the weeks of April-May 2014, be another positive turning point for Indian people and India’s history.

(Y S Rajan)

25-02-2014