Thoughts on economics and liberty

Tag: Guest Posts

Gandhism redux? Wanna be Gandhis and the original Gandhi [Barun Mitra]

This is by my good friend Barun Mitra. The original version was published here.

Saturday, August 20, 2011
Many of today’s anti-corruption protestors believe that they are participating in the second freedom struggle from misrule. Ambedkar had warned against extra-constitutional means of protests. But today, in the name of Gandhi, many believe that constitutional processes are expendable. It is good that Gandhi is back in the public memory. If this provides an opportunity to try and understand him, it will be even better. While the tumultuous protests we are witnessing today seem to cluster under the umbrella of Gandhism, but how Gandhian is the Anna Hazare led movement, asks Barun Mitra.
What we see: social activist Anna Hazare forever poised on the lip of a threat, that of a prolonged fast. What we know: Hazare is demanding that the Parliament of India adopt the Jan Lok Pal bill, as drafted by his team, promising to create a new, independent and anti-corruption agency.
What with the fasting and a leader wearing a white cotton cap of a certain kind, it seems that Gandhi and Gandhism, is back in vogue again. Gandhi led one of the greatest political movements the world had ever witnessed – India’s non-violent march towards independence from colonial rule. Many of today’s protestors believe that they are participating in the second freedom struggle from misrule.
And so, they don the Gandhi cap as they join street protests against corruption and mis-governance in India. Cap=Gandhi, fasting=Gandhism? Equally, while exercising the freedom to protest, there is a danger of undermining the very constitutional processes that have protected these freedoms.
Gandhi led the Indian struggle for Independence but he did not fast against British rule as such. Occasionally, he did protest against specific actions or policies of the British by fasting, such as better facilities in prisons.
Actually, the contrast could not be starker between the original Gandhi and his self-proclaimed heirs of today. Gandhi did not fast to fan anger and didn’t seek to bring pressure on the government. His political fasts always had a very specific message for his followers. He did not need to fast on a public platform, nor did he need to appear on 24/7 news channels. Yet his political fasts carried the message, strongly, succinctly, and widely, inspiring millions. Gandhi’s self-denial was an occasion for introspection, and bringing the spotlight on the issue at hand. This is why almost on every occasion he was willing and able to compromise and carry his critics along.
There is no doubt about the angst in society today. A large section of the populace has been both victim as well as participant in the prevailing corrupt environment, governance failure and economic mismanagement. The lack of credible political leadership at the moment has created a vacuum, and it is this space that civil society activists like Anna Hazare has filled. However, good intentions are not sufficient to cure all ills. It is much easier to join a popular campaign, rather than doing the requisite hard work to understand the underlying causes.
As for the coverage in the mass media, the 24/7 news media have their own interests in stoking the fire in pursuit of the drama, and hardly have the time and space necessary for a dispassionate discourse on any issue.
Mass movement
Gandhi taught the world the power of satyagraha, peaceful civil disobedience, as he led India’s struggle against British rule. Today, however, the Congress party, which he once led, is seen to be muzzling the peaceful protest led by Anna Hazare in Delhi.
Gandhi had transformed Indian politics by converting the Congress from a select club to a mass movement. Today, the same party seems confused as it confronts a few thousand people on the street.
Gandhi gave a completely new meaning to the concept of fasting, by turning the traditional Indian ritual into a powerful political tool. The fasting symbolised Gandhi’s own conviction and reflected his confidence in his followers. Gandhi was a leader who expected his friends and followers to rise to the high standards that he set. Today, political leadership primarily consists of pandering to the lowest common denominator.
Gandhi initiated fasts on a number of occasions throughout his long public life. However, he was anything but inflexible. On February 4, 1922, police fired on a procession of protestors near Gorakhpur. A rampaging mob then set fire to the police station in Chauri Chaura, killing more than 20 policemen. Gandhi called off the agitation despite objection from his colleagues in the Congress Party. He felt that his followers had not yet grasped the essence of non-violence and therefore, were not ready to undertake satyagraha. This capacity to lead from the front, established Gandhi as the true leader of the masses.
 Highlights from a few of Gandhi’s fasts
  • In South Africa, Gandhi went on a fast as a penance for some moral lapse on the part of two inmates of his ashram. He also undertook a fast when some members objected to the admission of a few Harijans to the ashram.
  • In 1919, Gandhi went on a 72- hour fast to protest the massacre of civilians by British troops in Jalianwala Bagh in Amritsar, Punjab, and also in opposition to the public disturbances that followed in other parts of the country.
  • In November 1921, Gandhi vowed to fast on every Monday till India gained swaraj or self-rule.
  • In February 1922, Gandhi went on a fast to introspect and underscore the significance of peaceful civil disobedience among his followers, following the deaths of policemen in Chauri Chaura.
  • In 1933, Gandhi undertook a fast for his own self-purification and that of his colleagues.
  • In 1939, while on a three- day fast to protest some decisions of the ruler of Rajkot, Gandhi issued a statement, appealing to Congressmen “to make supreme efforts to clean the Congress house of proved corruption and impurities.”
Fast essentials
In 1932, Gandhi started his politically most controversial fast while in jail, in Pune. The British government had accepted a proposal for separate electorate for lower caste sections of the population, following a demand from Dr B. R. Ambedkar. Gandhi went on a fast against this proposal. He was not fasting against the British government but wanted Ambedkar to withdraw his demand, and not divide the Indian Hindu population on caste lines. After days of negotiations, a compromise was reached, and it was agreed that rather than a separate electorate, a certain number of seats in the assembly would be reserved for the lower caste sections, in order to facilitate their political participation.
Ambedkar was not very happy with the Poona Pact but he accepted the compromise because he felt that if something were to happen to Gandhi, he and the lower caste population would be blamed, and that would put at risk whatever little progress was being made in the matter.
In 1947, India was partitioned, and Pakistan was carved out, at the time of Independence. Millions of people were uprooted from their homes. Hindus sought to move to India, and Muslims to Pakistan. Emotions ran high and communal riots engulfed Bengal in the east, Punjab in the west.
The government of India struggled to keep peace in the west, as refugees poured into Delhi. Gandhi and a handful of followers went on a march through rural Bengal, comforting victims and seeking an end to the senseless violence.
Then Gandhi performed his biggest miracle in September 1947. He went on a fast in Calcutta, in an ordinary house in a Muslim locality in the city. He said he did not want to see the destruction of the ideals he had tried to strive for all his life. Gandhi declared that unless the violence ended, he would prefer to die. As the word of his fast spread, citizens and leaders began to come out, calling for peace. In three days, the 78- year- old Gandhi was able to calm the religious frenzy and the mob violence ebbed.
Today, the protestors claim to believe in constitutional democracy but do not seem to believe in the legitimacy of the elected Members of Parliament. They claim to represent the angst of the masses against corruption but feel that the same masses are gullible and would never elect ‘honest’ people to office. They claim to be followers of Gandhian ideals… yet one of the most talked about Anna Hazare legends is of him tying up village drunkards to a tree and whipping them with a belt!
Gandhi spoke of village republics. Anna has been stressing that in a democracy sovereignty lies with the people, and it is the gram sabhas that is the foundation of democracy. Yet, Anna has no hesitation in acknowledging that if he were to contest an election, he is likely to lose his deposit, because the people are ignorant. It is this kind of disdain, which gives rise to the sense of arrogance that only Anna has the light, and that those who disagree are either living in the dark or must be corrupt.
Changing course
For those who want to uphold Gandhian values and fight corruption, it would be worthwhile to ponder if their target should be the elected government of the day, or if, like Gandhi, they could inspire people to eschew the giving and taking of bribes.
The anti-corruption campaigners want to create a strong and independent institution of Lok Pal, combining the roles of policing, investigation and prosecution, all in one. They may be looking for a Superman who could easily turn into Monster Man.
Caught in the middle of the anti-corruption battle, today’s crusaders seems to have forgotten that corruption is not merely a consequence of moral frailty but an outcome of policies that sanction state patronage, bestow favours, and distort the normal economic functions.
Institutions matter. But in their zeal to end corruption, the campaigners are attempting to de-legitimise the only institution which the people are able to hold accountable – the Legislature. Most other segments of society, be it family, industry, non-profit organisations, or religious orders, do not have such a regular and periodic turnover of leadership, as is the case with the elected representatives. For good or bad, less than half of the sitting legislators have a reasonable prospect of getting re-elected.
In the current turbulent times, it would be useful to remember what Ambedkar, the Chairman of the Committee which drafted the Constitution, said in the Constituent Assembly, in 1949:
If we wish to maintain democracy not merely in form, but also in fact, what must we do? The first thing in my judgment we must do is to hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic objectives. It means we must abandon the bloody methods of revolution. It means that we must abandon the method of civil disobedience, non-cooperation and satyagraha. When there was no way left for constitutional methods for achieving economic and social objectives, there was a great deal of justification for unconstitutional methods. But where constitutional methods are open, there can be no justification for these unconstitutional methods. These methods are nothing but the Grammar of Anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us.
In the name of Gandhi, one should not throw his values and constitutional methods out of the window. Actually, it is good that Gandhi is back in the public memory. If this provides an opportunity to try and understand him, it will be even better.
Author : Mr Barun Mitra is the director of Liberty Institute, an independent public policy think tank in New Delhi. 
This article was published in the Liberty Institute on Saturday, August 20, 2011.
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India the caged bird – its sad story in a picture

Vijay Mohan, FTI member, has updated his article and also provided a graphic image of Pacman to represent red tape in India! To see the image directly, click here

In addition, he has also sent in an evocative pictorial depiction of India, as a caged bird – below (Click for larger image)

Thanks, Vijay. Very creative! A picture is worth a thousand words. 

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Will increasing the number of laws help India? Is the Jan Lokpal Bill just one more utopian law?

Vijay Mohan, a member of FTI, has sent in an article he wants to share with you. Being an interesting perspective, I'm publishing it as a guest post. Basically, Vijay questions the pedigree of the Jan Lokpal bill, wondering whether it is merely going to increase red tape. Will increasing the number of laws help India ? 

[Note that as it is late tonight, I'm switching off my computer after this and will provide my comments on this article in the comments section tomorrow.] 

Corruption: A path to growth in restrictive environment

By Vijay Mohan

Raj’s (Shah Rukh Khan) mom told him in DDLJ that, there are always two paths. One will be of truth the difficult one and other will be of falsehood but will be easy. So to take the bride He took the path of truth and honesty and got 100’s of slaps and kicks, but anyway Hero’s can bear unlimited number of shots but took the Bride and the people start clapping at the performance. Overall a super duper hit movie…
Now a hero with totally opposite attitude, Abhishek Bacchan in GURU took the short cuts for success, played with the rules, bribed beaurocrats to get his business running, in the end he could provide the consumers a better quality silk cloth at much lesser rate, the employment it generated was another noble cause.
The same feeling I got after the speech of GURU as I got while Raj took the path of truth. But the outcomes are different; DDLJ is a fictional story while GURU is a story based on life instincts of Dheeru Bhai. In fictional story Raj got Simran, Story ends while for Indian Economic Story begins with THE End of Guru.
The real intentions of making money of GURU will still be a question mark for most of the Indians for whom making profit is dirty task. I think we got this feeling from Nehru? The designer of our governance system. I didn’t see any harm but only good his business did for others. So isn’t the topic (Corruption: A path to growth in restrictive environment) justified
So Guru took a path of corruption and got only good, Had he been relying on the systematic paths, the paths designed by our first prime minister of India (Against the paths suggested by Patel, Rajaji, Ambedkar and Gandhi) he would have been kicked out of the industry (that created prosperity for so many), Infect he was kicked but he tricked and got back into business.
Education is the other issue in current scenario which inspires me a lot and whatever standard education is in India is because of corruption otherwise there would have been private schools miles away with pathetic conditions [Lesser schools, No Competition, No Quality AND More corruption more private schools, Competition fosters quality].
I got educated from central school, I was lucky to be borne with father in central government. The fees (My father) paid was negligible, But I don’t know who else paid other part of my fees through Taxes (Mostly Tax is paid by private enterprises as Govt is only good for nothing, they don’t generate money, they only destroy it).Our PT teacher could slap any student anytime without asking and we had no one to approach to, I would wonder if this can happen in private schools. The quality of education wasn’t up to the mark when I reached standard XI and XII, but we were told not to complain about the teachers as those will be transferred to other schools and your brother will suffer.But our juniors didn’t obey them and compained and got the teachers tranfered (But they got new teachers worst than before), This gives me hopes and new generation will ask for there rights and freedom to choose. … In private schools those teachers would have been sacked for better replacements [But no solution exists, If you suffer from Govt Failure], as Private schools work on repo unlike Govt schools that will get students anyway. With some of my friends shifted to private schools, got the best among the teachers available. This was again possible with corruption as private schools didn’t follow the rule of recruiting teachers with defined qualifications which my Govt school followed , I don’t know How in the World Govt can define teacher ability with his/hers competence of teaching.Private school followed the Market principles . What most of the students in my class did then?? They took private tuitions from the teachers of private schools, first wasting the time in school with those pathetic teachers and then spending money on tuitions.
I only got my computer teacher for last two months before the board exams, as recrtuitment process is so heavy and complex; But Private schools by passes them and chooses market to select but again this is a corruption of private schools.
So the result of Corruption… More schools, better teachers, better quality of education, and employment and PROFIT.. Shhhhhhhhhhhhh (Don’t tell anyone as making Profit in education sector is again a Corruption).I agree that price of education is quite high with good private schools , but come on, school owners have to get fees out of parents to compensate for the bribes .Other reason is Demand and supply theory , restrictions discourages people opening up private schools and demand of schools is quite high, hence the cost shoots up.
I don’t see a demand of lesser rules and laws in India and limited Government in India , Hence I think Corruption is doing some good at least But What is this , What I am hearing Now , Hang the Corrupt people ?? Catch the Corrupt people, More Laws, More Rules… Jan lok Pal, though I know these Laws / Rules will not curb corruption, But I am afraid, What if Govt employees… Start following the Laws and rules in the designed system … Where will these private schools and GURU Be.?? Or Lokpal will nationalize the private schools as Bitiya Indira did….
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Here's an image that Vijay has sent in, to illustrate his article (click for larger size)
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When the river drinks up its waters

Retired Vice Admiral Admiral Barry Bharathan, a prominent member of the Freedom Team of India has written this excellent write-up which I thought deserves wide dissemination.


You are incredulous at first. You then scramble for buying up bottled water like the many who can afford it. You don’t want to know as to why the river drinks up the water. You look at someone who starts digging up a bore well with awe and admiration. You think that this will solve your problems. You simply do not want to hear or read anything about the water table.

God Bless Shri Anna Hazare. The debate is not about him or the movement that is being supported by many former bureaucrats, cops, lawyers, and other reputed leaders. The real issue is our readiness to discuss, study, enquire, inquire, debate on something that is below and beneath acceptable norms of administrative and civic conduct. It is akin to describing some woman as being a little pregnant. Human venality has no real answers. At best, it can be controlled. This is the mythical and historical truth from the time Homo sapiens came into being. 

All the clamour is our Nation’s admittance of helplessness. The common man is excited and naively feels that there would be rapid reformation. The government heaves a sigh of relief that it has an escape route in the form of the “LOK PAL”. Everyone is only too familiar that the survival angst of Indians invariably calls for short term temporary placebo solutions. We need pragmatic, acceptable quality rules of business that truly addresses the aspect of effective governance.

The concept of the LOK PAL appears laudable but is actually unworkable. Our venerated constitution so wonderfully written has certain basic contradictions. An example is article 39 which directs the state to secure many essentials for the livelihood of its people. Yet article 37 prevents the state from being taken to court if it fails to do so. Article 311 seeks to provide job security to government employees. Yet it has unwittingly made the “government servant” a “People Master. Productivity and performance statistics clearly show abysmal depths of administration.  We seem to want to catch the tiger by its tail!  We have a political party agnostic government system that remains unchanged over the last six decades. Opacity, diffused accountability, compartmentalized working is the norm since independence. Rules of business, regulations, encourage below the table adjustments. People are conditioned to be supplicant when it comes to dealing with essentialities of documentation for their very existence!   

The logic of the LOK PAL to oversee the functioning of the government, review the past misdoings, without any constitutional authority seems perplexing. Assuming that even this is done, how can anyone regulate, implement a system that is not designed for transparent rules of business. The lack of a viable management information system, the absence of any corporate management and the embedded DNA of a welfare state all render Governance sub optimal. Consequently corruption has been integral to our way of life.

The LOK PAL charter simply needs to be optimized by focusing on Governance and rules of business. What affects the day to day to life of the common human? Can we make the rules and regulations people friendly. Can we create internet information highways? Can we improve supply chain management in our towns and villages. 

The Politico-Legal-Bureaucratic-Military combine must seek to get its basics right. Corruption can be stripped by transparent, accountable practices. Let us give our people a sense of belonging, believing and being Indians.       

Most refreshing is the way people came together in a peaceful manner. This is the promise of India. Let us quench the thirst of the river.


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