Times of India

Politics of feebies promises a bleak future

The stench of corruption travels quickly from Delhi. With the news that Tamilnadu chief minister’s daughter, Kanimozhi is soon to be charged by the CBI, the money trail in Raja’s 2G scam seems to be established. The noose is tightening and DMK’s PR machine is working overtime to spread ‘sincere lies’ before the state election on April 13. Each of the major parties--the DMK and the AIDMK--commands the loyalty of about a third of the voters. The Congress, DMK’s junior partner, controls 12% to 15% of the vote and Vijaykanth, AIDMK’s partner, holds around 9%. The AIDMK has the advantage of anti-incumbency but it will be a close contest. What should concern us, however, is another form of corruption raging under the bright Tamil sun that challenges our political morality.

It is immoral for us to slow growth

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said last Sunday that his country’s annual growth target has been lowered to seven percent for the next five years. He made this remark in an on-line chat with the nation. “We must no longer sacrifice the environment for the sake of rapid growth as that is unsustainable,” he said. He urged the government to shift its focus from GDP growth to the quality and benefits of growth.

Is it Criminal to think small in India?

 There are two spaces in the politics of India. And one of them is empty. The two spaces reflect the classic division between those who look ahead and aspire versus those who look back and complain. Our political parties cater to the second–to the victim in us through their politics of grievance. The present gridlock in the parliament is also symptom of the same dispirited politics—no party is sufficiently hungry for reform to break the logjam.

Don’t be silent, prime minister!

 “The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.” In these famous lines, John Steinbeck, goes to the root of our present crisis in public morality.

Licence raj could kill microcredit

Although human life is less than the blink of an eyelid in terms of the universe, it is staggering what it is able to create. Thirty million (yes, three crore!) poor women in Indian villages have taken small loans and started enterprises. With the loan they buy a cow to sell milk, or invest in a sewing machine to sell clothes or open a small kirana shop. What began as charity work by NGOs has become self-sustaining business, thanks to the entry of professional microfinance companies (MFIs) who are gradually replacing the village moneylender.

In search of America’s liberty and India’s dharma

It is one thing to win power, another to wield it. Two dispirited leaders met in Delhi this week. President Obama was chastened by dramatic electoral losses in the US Congress and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh disheartened by never ending corruption scandals. Both seemed to have forgotten the fundamentals of what created their respective democracies. Just as one cannot understand America without the concept of liberty, so is India inexplicable without the idea of dharma.

Urban Longings

No son of a peasant ever wants to be a peasant. This is an old truth going back to when the first city appeared on the earth 10,000 years ago. A farmer yearns to live in a city and be called a ‘citizen’. From the word ‘city’ also comes ‘civic’ and ‘civilized’. A civilized person is supposed to show concern for his fellow citizens; and from this act of civic kindness is born ‘civilisation’. The city loosens the barriers of prejudice—of caste, religion, and feudal status--and this is why every peasant wants to part of the urban proletariat.

Good politics is about prudence, not moral perfection

Two weeks have gone by since the Allahabad High Court pronounced a historic verdict on a property dispute that seems to go back at least five hundred years. The verdict says less about the law and more about our country which is remarkable for the extraordinary continuity of its traditions rather than their antiquity. We live at the same time in the first, the eleventh and the twenty-first centuries, and the court’s judgment has upheld this continuity and simultaneity of our historical lives. The verdict has ensured communal harmony but do we have reasons to worry that it might encourage demolition of other mosques on sites where there were pre-existing temples?

Don’t close these schools

 The summer of 2010 will be remembered by many Mandal Education Officers in Andhra as a particularly lucrative one. Emboldened by the new Right to Education Act, they swooped down on unsuspecting schools in the slums and villages of Andhra Pradesh in order to shut them down. By June end they had created so much fear and terror among poor parents that the Secretary of Education of the state government had to clarify that the new law gives unrecognized schools three years to gain recognition and will not be closed immediately. By then corrupt officials of the state bureaucracy had achieved their objective. Bribes had tripled and one official even boasted that he may not have done as well as at the Commonwealth Games, but it had been one his best months.

Future is Ours To Seek

             Two trends, one good and one bad, have defined India’s first decade of the 21st century. The good trend is that prosperity has begun to spread, largely as a result of high economic growth. The second trend is the simultaneous rise in corruption. The lazy minded will connect the two trends, but in fact they are quite independent. High growth has been fostered by economic reforms and corruption is due to the lack of the reform of state institutions.