Articles

SOFTER ISSUES - 1

LIVING WITH NATURE IN MODERN FORM - MISSION FOR THE TWENTYFIRST CENTURY

Softer Issues

Article - 54

We have dealt with many crucial issues relating to agriculture, animals, soil biology, mining, industry, infrastructure, services of various sorts, technologies, human habitats, economics, health, education, skills, governance, possible future scenarios of geopolitics, geo commerce, business management, natural disasters etc... While addressing these, we did not consider human beings as mere mechanical participants nor as a uniformly automated robots. We did consider the immensity of diversities not only in the biosphere but also in the way human beings live, see things, react to life, aspire for themselves and others etc...

But still, we had not addressed the softer issues about the human organisations, human aspirations, human behavior, culture etc... in detail. One of the reason is because these are very complex, not yet fully understood scientifically and therefore many opinions are still abound. Even confining to India, the softer issues are not easily describable even for a small State or a district of a larger state. If we add on to the human beings several differentiating layers of gender, class, caste, language groups, property measures of net worth, land ownership etc... and a newer layers such as higher education, education in elite institutions etc... we will note that the human groups function very differently depending on the combination of or exclusion of many of these features. For example, when super rich groups get together for their ‘common cause’ they would exclude all others. Even the places they stay are very exclusive. Similarly in geographical areas (even a smaller area) where one religious group has a large majority, other minority groups tend to live in close knit areas, as they perceive that they get a better identity and safety; in some places they are forced to do so due to prejudices. Softer issues for many such differentiated groups are very different: often time in opposition as well.

SOME OFTEN USED TERMS

The idea that all human beings are equal and have equal rights, gives rise to the concept of DEMOCRACY : ”The real POWER lies with the people”. They decide how they are to be governed. Such a concept is far removed from the concept of rule by a king, emperor and their dynastic inheritors. People are involved in some form or another but mostly they are the subjects of the king. Earlier revolutionary ideas of “people’s democracy” also included armed rebellion, civil war, guerilla war etc... to throw away the rule of the dynasties or autocrats and install a rule in the name of people. During the 19th Century and early 20th century, such democracies emerged as an alternate to electoral democracy (that is periodic elections of leaders through secret ballot by people, and COMPETITION amongst various politicians through organised political parties or as independents; this was also called multi party democracy). The revolutionary people’s democracies mostly curbed multiparty politics. The victorious armed revolutionaries established their own system of one-party rule and a form of “democracy” through the party, to “represent” people’s interest. Most of these republics have collapsed or have become dynastic dictatorships. Peoples Republic of China (PRC) is an exception. Iran has its own electoral system as Islamic Republic of Iran unlike the western models, the kingdoms in the Middle east and some republican dictators left out (which have also fallen into dynastic rules).

India has adopted a DEMOCRACY based on multi-party system with separation of powers of the legislative, executive and judiciary. There are many checks and balances on the power of these wings of governance. There is freedom of speech; freedom of protest even by a small minority against the decisions of or proposals of duly elected government right to property, right to privacy and so on.

How much of this democracy has helped all Indians to have better incomes, better life, better equality etc.?  Can it give these to all even over a period?

Let us examine another softer issue: COMPETITION is considered to be good in politics (through elections and other means of propaganda, protests, public relations etc.,) to ensure that people get the “best” leaders. Similarly competition between businesses is considered to be good to ensure economic efficiency and to offer better quality and price to consumers. India has seen many practical examples since 1991, when the economy was liberalized. One simple example: before 1991, telephones were the MONOPOLY of the Government of India. Only 50 lakhs telephone connections were there over a period of 44 years after independence. The elected leaders assumed that telephone is a luxury and not needed for ordinary people. Post-1991 thanks to the competition and private sector entry, now there are 96 crores telephone connections; they are increasing. Same can be told of availability of milk and many other commodities.

So competition is good; are there other softer issues related to it, which can affect society?  So are many other words:  EQUITY, INEQUALITY etc.,  each pointing out a certain softer issue.  Also the word JUSTICE is used.  After a major crime is reported, even before the alleged crime is investigated, media and vocal activists demand JUSTICE.  Often times by this word “justice”, the shrill voices desire IMMEDIATE PUNISHMENT  of the person(s) who has (ve) allegedly committed the crime.  “Instant justice”  appears to be the desire of persons who are affected.  There are processes of law; they are perceived to be slow and are also slow in practice.  So we need to look at the softer issues of JUDICIAL system.

Similarly the softer issues of what is meant by the  QUALITY of education.  Are issues of quality, ranking etc., easily measurable items with clear and quantifiable answers?

There are much softer issues of perception about various entities and processes of modern life.  It is easy to say that all traders and businessmen are bad, greedy and are there to only fleece.  “Middle men” are perceived to be criminals.  Similarly there are many who perceive the statements of oversight agencies (we have addressed about these counter bureaucracies in one of the Kisan world article) like CAG, parliamentary committees or even court verdicts  or newspaper reports as ultimate “truths”.  How much scope for errors exist in many of these processes (even without any intent of corruption)?
Lastly, is it possible to assume totally neutral media; or oversight agencies or even those who take executive action?  Is it possible to “design a system where everything is decided by objective data, analysed by computers.  Many persons tend to quote one study or a report of a committee and would like to base all decisions on that.  Or try to find ultimate solutions in a magic institution like Lokpal?

We don’t claim to have answers for all of these. Now have we covered all items which can be called softer issues in the above illustrative narrative. Still we believe that all Indians should be aware of such softer issues, which become crucial for the modern world, as it is very many times more complex than it was further, the lives of people even a century ago. There is a lot of information of all forms including disinformation mis-information and outright lies, (as explained by Murray Gell Mann; we have quoted him often) floating in the cyber world, which surface out through print media, audio visual media and also through the “minds of people” who are influenced by them.

For a better life, for a more peaceful and secure life, we all need to understand the softer issues, so that we can form our opinions in a more balanced way.  That is crucial for the modern life; that is crucial for being in harmony with Nature, as it is understood during the 21st century.

Hence this brief article. We address some of softer issues to illustrate as to how we can approach each item when we are confronted with them directly or indirectly.

DEMOCRATIC SYSTEMS

In the 21st century context, it will only be  relevant to consider only the multi party electoral system as DEMOCRACY. Even with this narrow definition, we find that there are several distortions; in many countries including in India, a single party dominates for a long time, a few decades or more; some of it naturally and some of it by what is called “rigging” as a process of COMPETITION by any means. The latter was prevalent in many parts of India, but mostly now eliminated due to electronic voting system and strong actions by the Central Election Commission since 1990’s.

The universal adult suffrage in India having a huge illiterate population, has spread the base of democratic process. The identity politics based on caste, religion, language and even the charisma or nostalgia of old feudal and royal families have played a role in winning seats. Many caste groups who had been historically way down in social and economic hierarchy could come up with assembly / parliament seats. Then their “voices” are heard. Measured in such terms the Indian Democracy has done well. However starting with the Central Government in which a single party ruled many decades, a strong tendency towards dynastic rule has set in. The political party can be “captured” by a few individuals and their dynasties can be the perpetual rulers as the political parties have nearly monopolistic absolute authority to nominate candidates. The so called “inner party democracy” is more in terms of talking “nice things” and there is no constitutional provision to enforce elections within political parties at periodic intervals; and to limit the terms of the office bearers. Some parties have such rules. Most of them do not have or have it only on paper. Such an absolute opacity and immunity provided to the basic sources of or roots of electoral democracy have led to several negative features in the functioning of the democratic politics which controls the governments (in the State, Centre and even in local bodies) and thus has become the very nature of GOVERNANCE in India.

First and foremost is the formation of dynasties in almost all parties, including those who came up with the slogans of inclusive politics. Along with top layers of dynasties, there are several sub-layers of dynasties. Those Indians who were born in 21st century, that is those who are now under 15 years of age have practically no chance of holding good position in political power hierarchy. Such a possibility for all Indian is crucial for the time spirit of democracy. The current generation of Indian political leaders at the top who have no dynastic origins, were all born about 60 years ago!

But even in such parties, the Gen X is knocking at the doors and would like to use the “privileged access” of their parents or uncles or aunts or parents-in-law, to enter into high levels of the political ladder when they are young! There are many examples of such Gen X political leaders in India. What happens to rest of the Indian boys and girls who do not have such an access? This is an important SOFTER ISSUE about the functioning of political parties in India, which are becoming family properties.

Closely coupled with this, is the question of funding of political parties.

Even when there is a single “dictatorial” party, it needs large number of party members (workers); they need to be taken care of in terms of their personal lives, welfare of their families etc...  They would like to be better than the “average” people ruled by the party. That means the functioning of the parties requires huge sums of money, with of course the top and middle level leaders taking away bulk of such money for their power and welfare.

In a multiparty system things are even tougher. There is competition: good one in terms of policies; but as it happens in India even now there are several bad parts such as “bribing the electorate”, creating illegal hurdles for the opponents which borders on crimes (This is also described as “money and muscle power” by politicians themselves to attack the party which has won more seats!)

In addition the “first past-the-pole” type of voting system for selection of the winner creates many anomalies; in a multi-cornered contests a person who polls just 20% of votes polled or even less would be declared as a victor. This system, has its merits especially that of simplicity, but also adds lots of uncertainties to the members of the political parties who aspire to win and to hold Government positions. Naturally it also adds to the anxieties of political leaders because there is always a possibility of losing their majority in seats and thus their opportunity to rule!

All these uncertainties lead to accumulating more resources to survive through “rainy days” (that is when not in power of Govt) and keep fighting to win next time. Thus fund rising has become the important game for the political parties; it is also seen as a  mechanism for survival and perpetuation!  (a Darwinian process?!). This is also another important reason why dynasties form within parties and hold on to it with death-grip. Because the process of raising funds for parties is one of darkest, opaque and well guarded secrets by all parties. What is declared out, is only a window dressing. Even parties with small number of seats raise such funds by use of various forms of blackmails. Extortions and “deals”, as bigger parties do with greater ease! The darkness of the process allows for the individual actors who raise funds and spend money, to divert some to their own kitties! The higher up one is, greater is such a chance. Hence there is the tendency to perpetuate their own leadership; as long as the party workers are kept happy through substantive crumbs available to them, they will not rise against the leadership. Power-struggles are left to the top echelons of the party. How such processes had built up from the time of Independence is beautifully brought out in his fiction-autobiography “The Insider” by P.V. Narasimha Rao. It is interesting to read about the slogans of “land reforms” which are used for political gains but without actual implementation in order not to disturb the rich land lords. The current political activities around land acquisition are to be seen in the back drop of the early history depicted by P.V. Narasimha Rao. 

The fund raising and expenses for the political parties for survival and victory, is the main source of corruption and black money in India. This is an open secret but talked about in public discourses and writings only sparingly. But the fact remains that these processes within political parties without mandatory and well monitored democratic elections within parties etc... are important SOFTER ISSUES;  these have severely distorted the functioning of Indian governance at all levels from centre to the state to local bodies.

The resultant or corollary malignant softer issues associated with such a "democracy" are:

  • Ubiquitous black money and corruption distorting all processes of economic reforms, economic growth and preventing the reaching of benefits to bulky base of India.  It also leads to “crony capitalism”  and “crony welfarism” (which is diverting of tax money for distribution to people with an aim of victory in elections, though such actions are very damaging to Indian economy and people)
  • Parties are so self-centred that they look for every opportunity to disrupt the elected govt. from functioning. As TRAI Chairman said in a recent statement about net-neutrality, we notice daily a number of shrill voices, ably  aided by a number of media channels, distort the process of democratic dialogue and rational governance. Is it not the intention of the founders of the Constitution makers to use the legislative wing of the Republic comprising elected representatives of people as a medium of discourse of issues related to various aspects and arrive at a good compromise of interests between various groups? But what is done is very different now. Block even good proposals. Replace dialogue and discussions with protests inside and outside parliament; disruption of civil life by various calls of bandhs (the State Governments being silent spectators) or use of dharna; fast-unto-death protests.

The electronic media has a number of opportunities to increase their viewer rating through shrill shouts in the panels (no discussions!!).

The real function of the fourth estate (Press) being a forum of good public discussion of various issues (pros and cons) to educate the elected representatives and party leaders at various levels, has now been reduced to the pressures to be alive in the market economy (emphasis is therefore on advertisement of various sorts to tendencies reporting to “paid news”).

The emerging firth estate, that is the social media in India is still dominated by shrill middle class fads and fictions though there are  a number of good features. These shrill voices again spill over to electronic media and print.

How much of these processes are “manipulated” by big business and foreign interests is a serious SOFTER ISSUE. The points are occasionally raised by political parties to “score a mark” against rivals. But it appears that the political parties are closely linked with these big businesses and foreign interests as they are easy source of funds!

Thus the Indian democracy has many “soft bellies”. The reason we are raising these SOFTER issues and pointing out the areas of soft bellies, is because its functioning has now reached a state where governance of India is becoming very difficult if not impossible. Indian economic growth and therefore possibility of increasing incomes of all Indians are at stake. Under such populist pulls, Indian agriculture may be affected very seriously without any possibility of the needed investments, technology, supply chain linkages and human skills. All those marginal and small  farmers and the landless rural people, will be forced to leave villages as rural primary sectors do not provide the much needed opportunities for earning a decent income. Traditional artisanal activities cannot provide good incomes without the technology and design inputs to suit the modern world; such traditional artisans will sink into further abysmal levels of subsistence. The “free food”, “free medicines”, etc... promised through economically and financially unsustainable Acts of Parliament or State Legislatures will only be a mockery of the process of Law. How can government bear the costs of operations without additional tax, resources of tax? Whom will they tax? An increased tax on businesses will drive them away from India to other destinations like China, Vietnam, Srilanka, Malaysia, Thailand etc.,  The middle class (even the fragile upper middle class) cannot take the burden more! They will only do more protests, often with single point agenda: Sack same officers; enact a bill; bring justice; have CBI enquiry to expose  the scam; etc... Those who have to do serious governance will be igniting one fire or another; often cynically hoping that some bigger fire will make “people’s” mind shift to another fire and so on.

Serious actions in the short – and medium – term are forgotten. Occasional palliatives are a world level Indian Victory in Sports or an Indian NRI being recognized in USA; IMF, World Bank or some study reports that project India being great by 2030 or 2050!

COPYING THE DEVELOPED WEST

There is a group of elites who are hell bent on bringing Western standards to all of India, conveniently forgetting the fact that those countries evolved over centuries; also those countries have their normal distribution on many items be it for “quality” in schools, colleges. Not all are Harvard, Yale, Stanford or MIT.

For a country like India with Rich and Super Rich and Upper Middle Class persons being only about 300 million, with a Bulky Base of 700 million persons surviving at low subsistence levels with every next day being an uncertainty and about 200 million middle and lower class Indians just gotten out of their subsistence levels (due to some higher education  or city life etc.), it is impossible to impose Western country standards for education, or health care or pollution levels or various forms of human rights or welfare guarantees by law etc...

For example, the higher education system is being skewed very heavily to copy the Western standards of citations or ranking. This creates a serious problem of reaching reasonable education to all Indians especially the necessary economic and social skills required for the Bulky Base and Middle and Lower Middle Indians, to get high value incomes.

Even during the independence movement, there were some persons who considered themselves modern and progressive, took every opportunity to deride things of India; they would like to have the British/European view points to prevail over things of Indian origin. They would like to negate good things of Indian past through their (only type of “scientific history”). Only after Western scholars bring out facts on India, then they reluctantly agree. This tendency continued. With the economic opportunities provided after Independence such scholars “captured” the Indian elite transactions – universities, economic institutions, social institutions law making etc... With increased globalization, such elite groups increased in number.  Now they would like to enter into making standards.  Let us quote some portions from the recent 24 March 2015 issue of The Economist. “Top of the Class: Rankings”. We are specially quoting this because Indian educational administrators are now obsessed with citation index and rankings. And vested interests in foreign countries and India are making a frenzy of it. Even courts are swayed by these writings, perhaps enamored by the visions of “equality” in constitution. Very rarely contrarian view in the Indian context (even mildly) is allowed to appear in press or official papers. Even such contrarian views appearing in serious Western media like The Economist are sidelined. Let us see what is said in the article:

“There are plenty of worries about the effect of rankings. Baharam Bekhradnia, President of Britain’s Higher Education Policy Institute, reckons that they are worse than useless. They are positively dangerous…….”

“One concern is that these metrics measure inputs rather than outputs. “The indicators are resource intensive. They are about wealth”, say Professor Hazalkorn. But the main objection is that most of the metrics, directly or indirectly, concern research. There are no good internationally comparable measures of teaching quality. So one of Mr. Salmi’s  favorite universities, the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts, which he says “provides a superb learning experience to its students” does not feature in international rankings because it does no research.”

In USA which allows diversity to flourish such institutions can flourish. But in India obsessed with unitary control of education etc... from Delhi (through UGC, AICTE,  NAAC etc.) a few of such institutions which exist in India will be choked of project funding from Government sources. The academics and science bosses (who are again a coterie with a narrow base controlling many of the policies and funding), would crush these institutions still existing in India in several ways; the courts and media may amply help them!

Let us end with quote from The Economist article:

“Justin Lin, a former Chief Economist at the world Bank and currently Director of the China Centre for Economic Research at Peking University, has a habit of swimming against the tide. In 1979 he defected from the Taiwanese army to China, swimming across the narrow strait from Taiwanese-administered Kinmen to the main land. These days his contrarian nature has tamer outlets: he doubts that China should be in the race to create world class universities if the concept is defined by the number of its faculty’s publications in journals dominated by the West’s research agenda. “Who cares about world Class research if it doesn’t apply to the conditions that you are in”, he asks.

How many in India, are asking about relevance in  the Indian context,  for many issues they are propagating for India?

We will continue to elaborate on some more of the softer issues in the next article, as these are very serious and crucial for several millions of Indians who may not be aware of them and may be swayed by populist slogans, which are raised by self-centered narrow power-bases in India.

Indian democracy still provides a forum, despite several dangers to it as pointed out to raise such issues and find India relevant solutions.

Y S Rajan

25-04-2015