Times of India

Middle class gets back its dignity

A year ago no one could have imagined that cabinet ministers, powerful politicians, senior officials and CEOs would be in Tihar jail awaiting trial. Corruption is no longer the news about India; it is our unexpected and puzzling response to it. What explains the unending movement against bribery is an increasingly self-assured and impatient new middle class, which has finally attained self respect and dignity and is being taken seriously by the media. The middle class will become 50% of India’s population by 2020, and when that happens our politics will also change.

Judging sex, lies, war and yoga politics

Human beings are flawed animals with plenty of good and bad in them. They are also addicted to judging each other. During the past month there has been plenty of high moralizing about the world’s most powerful leaders. But in most cases the judgements have often been flawed as I will show in the cases of Dominique Strauss Kahn, Osama bin Laden, Rajat Gupta and Baba Ram Dev.

Good omens for rule of law in India

On April 8, the day before Anna Hazare broke his fast, I was in Cairo to present the ‘Indian model’ for Egypt's future. After the conference, a few of us wandered off to Tahrir Square, where a massive demonstration had broken out.  Through a twist of fate, I found myself suddenly on the podium, offering good wishes to the 37,000 protesters from the people of Al Hind. In the next three minutes I tried to convey a lesson from India’s democracy: it is not elections, not liberty, not equality that finally matters; it is the rule of law. Corruption persists in India because the rule of law is weak.

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.