Times of India

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.  

Wanted : A World Fit For Women

The conviction this week of Ajeet Singh Katiyar in Delhi in the notorious Dhaula Kuan gang rape case of a university student from Mizoram is good news. More important than the conviction is the 71 page judgement of the court which admonished the defence for maligning the victim and maintained that the private life of the victim is irrelevant. ‘A lady who has lost her virginity is not unreliable’ said the judge, whose verdict was primarily based on the victim’s consistent testimony.

Bring in reforms to prevent more Kodas

At a smart luncheon party in South Delhi this week something very peculiar happened. Someone blurted out, ‘These high and mighty guests are friends of Madhu Koda!’ This did not go well with our celebrity hostess, to whose discomfort the conversation soon went downhill as people sought the latest ‘juice’ on the Koda scandal. To my surprise, a consensus seemed to emerge that liberalization was at the root cause of corruption.

At last, good news about poverty


If only we would pause and look beyond the horizon of day to day events, we would see a trend of great significance. More people on the earth have risen out of poverty in the past 25 years than at any other time in human history, and this has happened primarily because of sustained high economic growth in India and China. Unlike China which has embraced growth enthusiastically, India has a vast industry of ‘poverty-wallas’, who incessantly raise doubts if our growth is pro-poor.

No ifs or buts, defeat Maoist violence

Arundhati Roy writes seductively. Recently I picked up her new book, Listening to Grasshoppers, and I was mesmerized by her luminous prose but I disagreed profoundly with her conclusions. I was revolted, in particular, by her support for violence. She regards Naxalism as armed resistance against a sham democracy. I call it terrorism.

Mukesh’s Sacrifice

Corporate Affairs minister, Salman Khurshid, created quite a stir recently when he warned companies to refrain from paying “vulgar salaries” or face the music. Mukesh Ambani took his advice and cut his salary by 65%. Flaunting wealth is distasteful; it is also imprudent when market capitalism is still trying to find a comfortable home in India. However, the minister was profoundly wrong. The trouble with judging other people’s lifestyle is that soon you are tempted to control other things, and this is a short step to the command economy. Not to live ostentatiously is a call of dharma, not a legal duty.