A slightly edited version of the following was published on rediff.com on march 1st, 2012 at http://www.rediff.com/news/slide-show/slide-show-1-social-contract-why-modi-scares-the-usual-suspects/20120301.htm
Social Contract: Why Narendra Modi scares the bejeezus out of the usual suspects
Rajeev Srinivasan on why Narendra Modi is a threat to the establishment because he overturns many of the convenient myths they propagate
It is a predictable a winter ritual: around this time every year it gets into high gear. A bit like Super Bowl season or duck-hunting season: the season to invent, regurgitate and shed crocodile tears over stories about how wicked Narendra Modi is.
There are quite possibly three reasons why there is such widespread and venomous criticism of Modi, apart from the obvious political fact that he has become a viable candidate for national office. Any one of these is good enough reason for Modi-bashing; but given all of them simultaneously, no wonder his detractors are practically apoplectic.
The three reasons, in my opinion, are:
- Modi has created a Social Contract with the people of Gujarat, which seems to work; it has broader national implications as well
- Modi has tamed the corruption monster, by not taking bribes himself, but more importantly, preventing others from doing so
- Modi has shown total contempt for political shysters and media hucksters: this hurts their amour-propre; not to mention their pocket-books
Modi’s greatest achievement has been the fact that he has created a clear social contract with the people of his state. (I am indebted to my friend B Rao of Los Angeles for this insight). Modi promised them development, and he delivered. In return, he asked for just one thing: discipline; and the people delivered. This has become a win-win situation for both parties, and for investors: there is a visible change in Gujarat’s fortunes, right on the ground.
The State GDP growth rate of Gujarat in the recent past has been at a scorching pace of 11.3% in 2005 (see http://www.rediff.com/business/slide-show/slide-show-1-glimpses-of-gujarats-high-growth-story/20120209.htm), considerably greater than that of India as a whole. This does not, alas, satisfy carping critics.
There was a long essay in Caravan magazine: I glanced through it, and one of the points made was that, even though $920 billion in investment had been promised for Gujarat during the last few ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ meets, only about 25% of these have materialized. That, however, is the norm in India: no more than about 25% of the promised investment actually materializes.
But look at the sheer numbers: almost a trillion dollars in investment proposals, and actual investment of, say, $230 billion! That is astonishing. This number can be directly contrasted with another large number: $462 billion. That is the amount estimated by Global Financial Integrity http://india.gfintegrity.org/ as the total amount siphoned out of India through illegal financial flows between 1948 and 2008.
In an intriguing irony, ‘Vibrant Gujarat 2011’ saw MoUs for $462 billion being signed – precisely the same as the amount estimated by Global Financial Integrity as having been spirited away in sixty years of allegedly socialist rule at the Center!
Modi has delivered on his implicit Social Contract: growth in return for order. When you think of social contracts, there are several models to consider, for instance those attributed to Europeans such as Locke, Rousseau and Hobbes, medieval imperialist models, Indian models, and the Confucian ‘Iron Rice Bowl’.
A common thread among all these models is that there is a tradeoff: there are rights, and there are responsibilities. It is necessary that you give away some of your rights in the interest of the greater good of society. The models differ in details, as well as in perspective – for instance is it teleological/utilitarian, preferring the greatest good for the greatest number, or is it deontological, preferring to protect the rights of the very weakest members? In some cases, it is neither, and is meant to be purely exploitative.
It could be argued that Modi has revived a traditional Hindu/Buddhist social contract, which, in return for discipline and hard work, provides the populace with security and righteous order. The population may pursue dharma, artha, kama, or moksha, without interference from the State; but they pay taxes and do their civic duty, and the State guarantees protection from predatory outsiders. This is roughly in line with the American idea of the rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.
This general Indian principle also evolved into the idea of gentlemanly warfare, wherein non-combatants were spared, with only the kshatriya class involved in bloodshed, battles ended at nightfall, and winners were chivalrous to fallen foes.
This sort of contract is explicit in Emperor Ashoka’s reign, and most vividly in Chanakya’s Arthashastra. Chanakya laid out in detail the kinds of information-gathering and management control that a sovereign needs to institutionalize, and contrary to popular mythology, Ashoka employed thousands of spies to ensure that any unrest was nipped in the bud and malcontents isolated.
This model was what turned India into the most prosperous nation in the world, as detailed in Angus Maddison’s magisterial economic history of the world. It was in fact the world’s leading economic power till roughly 1700 CE.
This model worked for several thousand years, from the earliest known stages of the Indus-Sarasvati civilization roughly five thousand years, up until the arrival of Arab and Turkish hordes in the 1100 CE timeframe, and later, the European hordes circa 1700 CE. This dharma or ‘natural order’ in Locke’s terms has been forgotten by modern Indians, brought up on a steady diet of misinformation.
The models that today’s Indians are more familiar with are Hobbesian, leading to “nasty, brutish and short” lives – those of empire. We have endured three forms of this imperial model: Muslim, Christian, and Communist. And we have barely survived.
The Arab/Turkish Muslim social contract of dhimmitude imposes order by explicitly reducing the rights of certain groups (non-Muslims) while allowing them the minimum possible subsistence to exploit them as productive members of society. However, in India, this was an unstable equilibrium because the Hindus resisted, and resisted continuously, unlike non-Muslims in, say, Iraq, Egypt or Persia.
The European Christian social contract of colonialism imposes order by explicitly pursuing a policy of overseas theft and loot, based on the superiority of “guns, germs and steel”. Interestingly, this social contract is now unraveling, as there are no more subject peoples to loot and steal from: Europe is collapsing into oblivion.
An excellent interview in the Wall Street Journal on February 26th with historian Norman Davies http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203918304577240984211126416.html suggests that the end is nigh for Europe. Why? Its social contract with its citizens has been that they would get prosperity in return for providing the muscle for overseas expeditions. Bereft of empire and forced to fall back on their own (minimal) resources, countries like the UK are rapidly reverting to their natural, Hobbesian state: the riots in several cities last year are indicative of this.
The Communist social contract is a form of fascism and Stalinism. It demands absolute loyalty from the public in return for… well, promises, but not often the reality, of prosperity. There is the stinging criticism that Communism offers you a version of democracy: “one man, one vote, one time”. That’s it. One time.
The incarnations of this contract range from the brutal gulags of the Soviet Union, China and Cambodia to the more mellow socialism in India. But that last, even though less violent in visible ways, has been an economic crime against humanity: it prevented 400 million Indians from climbing out of poverty. After sixty years of it, Manmohan Singh called hunger in India a ‘national shame’. It is indeed a shame, and it indicates the utter failure of the Communist/socialist social contract.
This is why the powers-that-be fear Modi’s obviously successful social contract: much as they try to paint Modi as hell-bent on victimizing Muslims, the latter have voted with their feet. They are willing to stay in Gujarat, eschew violence, and prosper. The Hindus are doing exactly the same thing: they have stayed, eschewed violence, and prospered. Precisely: a real secular state, where you succeed not based on your religion, but on how hard you work.
So clearly there is an alternative to the orthodox Stalinism of the powers-that-be, one that works. How terrible it will be if the rest of the country took notice! Whatever will the purveyors of failed social contracts do? That is reason number one Modi is bad.
Reason number two is related. Endemic corruption, and lack of leadership, are the biggest problems India faces. There are many leaders who are supposedly personally honest, but who allow those around them to indulge in the mass loot of the public treasury. Is that any better than if they were themselves indulging in theft? Probably not: it just adds hypocrisy to their other crimes.
Modi has been able to fix corruption with a singular mantra: not only is he personally not on the take but he doesn’t have offspring on the take either (Bhishma-like, eh?). But what’s more, he doesn’t allow anybody else to be corrupt either. This is most distressing for the neta-babu crowd. The fishes and loaves of office are turning into ashes in their salivating mouths: so what is the point in spending big bucks to get a rentier job or an MLA seat unless your rent-seeking self can recoup the investment in a matter of months? None whatsoever, and that is precisely the point!
It is amusing to note that Narendra Modi is immensely popular everywhere in Gujarat, except in the capital Gandhinagar – his party gets defeated here routinely, while it gets two-thirds majorities elsewhere! The neta-babu log are, understandably, unhappy with him. But I suspect the legendary mango man (aam aadmi) is quite happy.
The third reason is that, just as Modi has tamed the politician-bureaucrat nexus, he has also figured out the way to deal with the loud and self-important media, soi-disant “intelligentsia” and the NGO crowd. He doesn’t pay any attention to their foaming at the mouth; in fact, if I remember right, there was some incident where he simply got up and walked off a live TV interview when the rabid host kept hyperventilating.
India’s media and “intellectuals” have fattened themselves by attaching themselves to the mammaries of the welfare state, and following a simple mantra: “All the news that will get us crumbs from the government or junkets from foreign donors”. In fact, India has some of the most astonishingly biased people in positions of power.
There is, for instance, a statement by an activist immediately after the Sabarmati Express was set on fire, and 59 Hindus, mostly women and children, were burnt alive. This person said: “while I condemn today’s gruesome attack, you cannot pick up an incident in isolation. Let us not forget the provocation. These people were not going for a benign assembly. They were indulging in blatant and unlawful mobilization to build a temple and deliberately provoke the Muslims in India.” (‘Mob attacks Indian train’, Washington Post, Feb 28th, 2002 http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A13791-2002Feb27?language=printer).
Now imagine that this person sits on the all-powerful National Advisory Council! Let us now further imagine that this person has relentlessly filed petition after petition against Modi; has been accused of serial perjury and witness tampering; and is yet considered a credible spokesperson.
This is just an example of a media/NGO nexus that believes strongly in “truth by repeated assertion”, a successful tactic by the Communists too. That the Indian media is prostituting itself to the highest bidder (when they are not being bigots) is no surprise; no wonder Modi doesn’t care two hoots what they think. But this, of course, annoys the hell out of said media who fancy themselves as judge, jury and executioner put together.
There is a minor cottage industry that is centered on explaining how Hinduism is at the root of all evils in India. The latest is a bunch of misinformed kids at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, who wrote an essay wherein they blamed everything that is wrong in India on the Mahabharata, Ramayana and Arthashastra. There is ample evidence that this sort of ritualized strawman-building-and-knocking-down is a successful imperial tactic.
For instance, the British claimed Ayurveda and kalari payat were evil, banned them, and burned the books. They claimed the ancient practice of smearing cowpox pus as a preventive against smallpox was ‘barbaric’, and banned it. They claimed devadasis were an abomination, but in fact they were, like geishas, cultured women of substance, who often endowed public works like dam-building. They claimed dowry and jati are evil; but dowry, according to Veena Talwar Oldenburg’s remarkable research, was the result of British practices. Jati is the very reason Indian civilization has survived, because its distributed nature makes it hard to eradicate.
Narendra Modi is one person who has figured out the antidote to the venom from the self-proclaimed “intellectuals” and their newspapers and TV. He goes over their heads to a higher-authority: the people. And the people respond, showing said “intellectuals” how superfluous they are. No wonder they are livid.
Thus, by re-creating a viable social contract, by being an ethical leader, and by ignoring the vicious, Modi has shown he has the one thing that India needs: leadership. Not at all good, if you are one of those currently pretending to be leaders.
2200 words, 26th Feb 2012
A version of the following appeared in DNA on June 1 at the following URL:
Here is a PDF version of the same; DNA provided an absolutely fabulous photograph to go with it! inclusion of the rural poor jun 1
Financial inclusion for the rural poor: Rural Postal Life Insurance reaches out
Experts agree that bringing financial services to the rural masses is generally desirable. Significant value can be generated (both for individuals and for the nation) through providing services to the disadvantaged – for instance, the World Bank’s Christine Qiang estimates that national GDP grows by 0.8% for every 10 percentage-point increase in mobile telephony in emerging economies. Similarly financial services, such as micro-finance, can have a multiplicative effect on the unbanked.
The definition of ‘financial inclusion’ concerns the provision of financial services at an affordable cost. Both State-mandated interventions and market-driven efforts by the banks themselves have been tried. However, this has still left many strata of society under-served: a 2004 survey showed that there were only 59 deposit accounts for every 100 adults in the population. This also masks regional differences – from 17 in Manipur to 187 in Goa.
Most policymakers like some sort of dole – pensions, subsidies, etc., with the latest example being the NREGS scheme which guarantees 100 days-worth of wages to poor laborers. But these schemes are riddled with leakage. Subsidies are not sustainable in the long term, being most appropriate for short-term emergencies; they do not deal with underlying problems. Besides, the public sector has a reputation for callousness.
This is why it is all the more amazing that an innovative public sector initiative has had the effect of reaching many of the previously excluded in a short time. A conversation with the India Post Board member who dreamt up the program, Dr. Uday Balakrishnan, revealed two intriguing facts – one, the ability of the public sector to re-invent itself, and two, the willingness of poor cohorts to marshal their small savings and engage themselves in financial markets. It makes for a fine case study.
India Post is an underutilized player for financial inclusion, because it has reach and credibility. Given the 500,000 employees stationed in 155,000 outlets around the country, it is well placed as a distribution channel; it is the main payment conduit for 50 million NREGS participants. There is also trust in the institution, so that people are willing to incorporate it into their financial planning. As many as 200 million people hold Post Office Savings Bank (POSB) accounts.
It appears that India Post has been offering rural life insurance since 1995, but never emphasized it as a major line of business. When it began to focus on it recently, the results have been impressive: they empowered employees to think creatively and to innovate. A change management effort that also streamlined processes has enabled them to meet stiff targets. It is heartening that even staid government entities, with proper motivation, can be nimble.
Within a few months, some 12 million rural people have taken policies, with a majority of them opting for micro-insurance – for instance, life insurance policies that insure for up to Rs. 10,000, at a very affordable premium of one rupee a day. Larger policies are available for the price of a pack of beedis (Rs. 6) a day. The Post Office has become the largest player in this segment, covering more than twice as many people as all the other insurance companies put together, adding a million-plus new insurants a month.
Why have people opted to buy this level of insurance? Interviews suggest that the best reason is that the poor are aware of the opportunities that exist for their children, if only they could afford a decent education – in other words, there is an aspiration out there that the next generation must do better, and people are willing to sacrifice today’s consumption for children’s education tomorrow.
What is remarkable is that people are voluntarily spending their own tiny savings to buy this social security mechanism. Most of us think the great Indian public looks to the maa-baap government for everything, and that therefore doles, loan forgiveness, etc. are inevitable. It turns out the masses are willing to invest their small savings for the guarantee that a death in the family does not stunt their children’s future.
Once they hold this basic, fungible (if not liquid) financial asset (a life insurance policy), they use it as collateral to get loans from banks; that is, they are included in the system, and they become credit-worthy. In fact, the next thing they want is crop insurance, medical insurance, etc. – they are acting as rational economic players.
Furthermore, as a result of the law of unintended consequences, they are players in the broader financial market. Part of the premium (a prudent percentage, but still 1000s of crores)fs is invested in the market, and, over time, this should bring them better returns than those from the government-securities market.
The late C K Prahalad would be proud of them. The three billion at his ‘Bottom of the Pyramid’ are at last clawing their way out of poverty.
816 words, May 26, 2010
May 12, 2010
A version of this appeared on rediff.com at http://news.rediff.com/column/2010/may/12/rajeev-srinivasan-on-why-india-is-so-full-of-charlatans.htm
Accountability, a four-letter word in India: Why India has so many charlatans
Rajeev Srinivasan on why the State must ensure that people will pay for the consequences of their actions, a concept that is sadly unknown in India
“Clawback” – now that is a term in the American financial jargon that must be giving sleepless nights to some of the ex-Masters of the Universe from the fearsome investment banks that have fallen on hard times. This refers to the literal clawing back of benefits gained by those who, in hindsight, turn out not to have deserved them.
For instance, there is a move afoot to seize the multimillion-dollar bonuses awarded to investment bankers while their firms were creating the financial meltdown with their cavalier use of collateralized debt obligations and credit-default swaps. Those who caused billions of dollars-worth of damage couldn’t possibly deserve their fat bonuses.
It is not clear whether proposals to regulate Wall Street will succeed, and whether any ill-gotten gains will actually be clawed back by the taxpayer (who ended up, of course, bailing out said firms). But the very fact that this is being considered is a deterrent to future hanky-panky. That is, people would have to factor in the possibility that their malfeasance will have consequences.
India is refreshingly free of such old-fashioned niceties. In India, there are no consequences to the worst behavior, provided, of course, that you have the right credentials – that you belong to certain privileged categories of people, which include media mavens, film stars, politicians, cricket players, et al.
It goes beyond a lack of concern about delivering results – it has become routine to be cynical; promises are mere expectations. Many contracts are not worth the paper they are written. It has become a national pathology, or national pastime if you prefer, to lie about what one will deliver: you too must be guilty of saying “Consider it done!” when you knew there was no way you were going to do it.
Most Indians work this into their calculations, but it baffles foreigners, thereby adding to the impression that Indians, like Chinese, are inscrutable – a euphemism for “unreliable”. This makes it difficult to do business, because what appears to be an iron-clad guarantee to the outsider is often really only a ‘best-efforts, god-willing’ type of weasel-wording to the Indian. And Indians are accustomed to there being no penalty for lack of performance.
This is seen in every walk of life. On the one hand are the lionized cricket-players who make absolute billions. One would expect that the cricket-consuming (I am tempted to say something about Lotos-Eaters, but shall desist) classes would demand top-notch performances from their stars; but alas, they routinely put in pathetic performances because they know there are no consequences – they will get their millions, win or lose.
I have suggested in the past that there should be some deterrents to poor performance: I understand in soccer-crazy Latin America a player who caused the national team to be eliminated from the World Cup was shot dead on return. The threat of physical harm – say the loss of a finger or two if you screw up badly – would energize team-members wonderfully. Well, if you are squeamish about that, the least one can do is – there again, that wonderful concept – ‘claw back’ their ill-gotten earnings!
Similarly, much has been written about the lavish lifestyles of cricket executives – who, not surprisingly, include a number of politicians. Why not set Income Tax on these folks and claw back the BMWs and private jets and other bling they have accumulated?
Well, perhaps the cricketers are minor villains in comparison to politicians. The naturally cynical voter, accustomed to lavish promises at campaign time, expects nothing to materialize. Experience suggests that this is wise. The elaborate ruses intended to ease rent-seeking are truly creative, a wonder to behold.
A good example is the ongoing saga of the 2G mobile telephony licenses. The circumstantial evidence is damning – an ‘auction’ which was first-come, first served, and also wherein the last date for bidding is arbitrarily shortened by one week without notice. The final ‘winners’ included several players who were totally innocent of any telecom experience before and after. But they were quick to turn around and sell their licenses to telecom companies at 10x profit.
Interestingly, there has been no talk of clawing back these obscene and undeserved profits. The Prime Minister, who is said to be honest and decent and an economist, has maintained a Sphinx-like silence. The latest I heard about this is a detailed memo from the Department of Telecommunications exonerating themselves and their minister from all blame – a ‘clean chit’ in quaint officialese. No penalty for anybody.
Then there is the matter of the nuclear ‘deal’ that India has entered into, after many promises of a wonderful energy future. This was the justification for acceding to many conditions, which, in my opinion, eviscerated India’s nuclear deterrent capability and did nothing more for its energy security than create dependence on uranium-mining nations.
Interestingly enough, Pakistan and China, bellicose nuclear neighbors, have just entered into a deal for which Pakistan did not have to make any concessions whatsoever. China is giving Pakistan two nuclear plants as well as missiles: which, to put it bluntly, is pure proliferation. The United States, which screams “non-proliferation!” whenever India is involved, was strangely silent. In other words, yet another scam has been perpetrated.
Is anybody losing his job, or are they being prosecuted, for misleading the Indian public and walking the country down the garden path? Of course not. Similarly, the country is suffering the worst inflation in decades, and the price of food items in particular have shot through the roof. Has anybody been punished? Of course not.
By not putting in place mechanisms to ensure there is punishment for sinning, India is creating the right environment for ‘moral hazard’. People will take unnecessary risks, secure in the knowledge that if they win, they keep the loot; if they lose, the taxpayer pays. No wonder India is so full of charlatans.
May 21, 2009
The current global crisis is potentially an inflection point that marks the transition from an Anglo-American dominance to an Asian dominance in world economic affairs. Certainly, there is a startling turnaround in the fact that China holds $2 trillion in US Treasury securities and therefore lectures the Americans about running their economy – it feels like only yesterday when the shoe was on the other foot. Another indicator is China’s aggressive fire-sale purchases of commodities, including oil, copper, iron ore etc. from all over the world. “Have money, will buy” is their mantra.
But where is India in this “Asian century”? Alas, India has once again fumbled a golden opportunity to rise to economic superstardom. Given the profligate spending of the UPA and its self-proclaimed galaxy of economic geniuses, India now sports perhaps the highest deficit of any country: about 13%, a far cry from the 5% that the UPA has been promising us all along. Yet again, the Congress has successfully brought India back to the verge of the “Nehruvian Rate of Growth” of 2-3%, which is an economic crime against humanity, imposing abject poverty on 250 million people. After sixty years of Congress misrule, India has most of the world’s poor people, and some of the worst health and nutrition indicators, even worse than much poorer sub-Saharan Africa (see the NYTImes “As Growth Soars, Child Hunger Persists” http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/13/world/asia/13malnutrition.html?_r=2&ref=world ). This is truly a crime and a national shame.
February 10, 2009
This was published by the Pioneer, India Abroad and Rediff, and was picked up New American Media, from which a number of others also published it. Here are a few links:
The end of the immigration boom
Rajeev Srinivasan considers the impact on India
The relatively free movement of labor across borders for the last few decades has generally had a positive impact on many countries because of the large remittances sent home by expatriates. In India, Kerala has been the biggest beneficiary, its relative prosperity sustained by its sons and daughters toiling away in West Asia or in hospitals around the world. But it looks like the global recession is beginning to seriously hurt international migration, and many migrants are forced to go home again.
May 8, 2008
This was published in the New Indian Express on May 7th at
Here’s my original copy, as it was very slightly edited by them:
Air travel as metaphor
By Rajeev Srinivasan
Something odd is happening in the friendly skies these days: It may well be more pleasant now to take a flight in India than in the US! That would sound like sacrilege to those accustomed to the customer-friendliness, so to speak, of the erstwhile Indian Airlines, but a little de-regulation has gone a long way in India. Airlines are actually competing on the basis of providing value to passengers, not ‘rationing’ scarce seats.
On the other hand, high fuel costs, excessive competition, a lax regulatory environment, and the burden of aged equipment and high health-care and pension obligations are forcing American airlines to cut back on customer amenities. Not to mention on required aircraft maintenance. The result is delays, inconvenience, and general passenger frustration. The annual Airline Quality Survey this year gave a minus 2.16 score to the airlines, the worst in two decades.
This, in a way, is a repeat of what has happened in telecommunications. Arguably, cellular telephony is better, cheaper and more leading-edge than in America: Once again, in India, a little deregulation has removed the dead hand of socialist central planning, enabling entrepreneurs to provide a real service and make some money.
Airlines in the US have been cutting corners; this led to the cancellation of 3,000 American Airlines flights in April citing safety concerns. Several airlines have folded, including Aloha, Skybus and ATA, thus reducing flights to Hawaaii.
The actual experience of air travel in the US is made worse by the ordeals in the airports themselves. The security check is a nightmare, as you are forced to take off your shoes (even those worn by infants), your belt, every other item containing any metal, your jacket, your laptop from your carry-on bag, and put all these in plastic bins.
This would be half-tolerable if it weren’t for the thugs, also known as Transportation Safety Administration employees or contractors, who chivvy you along and bully you with barely-concealed disdain. In Newark airport, I was in line behind an old Indian woman and her daughter, who were shouted at and forced to take off every item of gold jewelry, including thin gold chains, bangles and rings, which obviously startled them.
Indian customs officials are infamous for being obnoxious, but these security people are a cut above. There was an infamous prison experiment at Stanford by Professor Zimbardo, wherein he randomly assigned a few students to be prison guards and others to be prisoners. Surprisingly soon, they took to their roles with gusto, and the guards became totalitarian bullies. This psychology may be in action here too.
Once you get on the plane, the torment does not end. I have sat on the tarmac in a tiny Embraer for two hours for a one-hour flight from Washington, DC to Newark. Congestion, the lack of well-trained air-traffic controllers, all this takes a toll. Fortunately for me, I wasn’t one of those who sat for ten hours on some tarmac last year on a Jetblue flight after a winter storm played havoc with their schedules.
The in-flight experience, too, is nothing to write home about. Leg-room is minimal; and if you are unfortunate enough to be wedged next to a large person, you (and they) can hardly breathe. I had a colleague who was forced by an airline to buy a second seat because he was grossly fat. He went to court, and the court agreed with the airline, no doubt pitying the passenger forced to sit next to him.
In-flight service on American airlines (United, Continental, American, Delta) has been pathetic for a long time. The food (including some kind of mystery meat not found anywhere else on earth) is deplorable; if you opt for vegetarian, you get singularly unappetizing boiled vegetables and quantities of cardboard-like lettuce. Fortunately, most airlines have now dispensed with food altogether. The only problem is that people bring on board large salads and sandwiches which they consume throughout the five-hour coast-to-coast flight.
The less said about the flight attendants the better. I once had a neighbor who was senior cabin crew on the San Francisco-Tokyo route for United. She was a battle-axe, and I dread to think of the poor passengers she was supposed to be helping. A lot of it has to do with age, and she was in her late forties. Without being age-ist, it is obvious that the body cannot take the wear-and-tear of being constantly on one’s feet, endemic jet-lag, and being professionally nice, unless one is about twenty-three.
Realizing this, Southeast Asian and East Asian airlines (Singapore, Thai, Korean, Japan) have long competed on in-flight service using young, attentive cabin crew. The Arabs are emulating this: Emirates, Qatar and Etihad hire Asian girls. And finally, India’s airlines have gotten the idea as well. Kingfisher and Jet seem to have found large numbers of attractive and smart young women as cabin crew. Jet has already created a reputation for good service on its international routes. I do hope they keep it up.
The decline in the standards of air travel in the US and the corresponding rise in India is a metaphor for the shifting fortunes of the two nations, and their trajectories. Civil engineering, once America’s pride and joy, is now under-funded. The great highways are neglected (a bridge in Minnesota collapsed recently), and the airports are tired and obsolete.
India’s advantage, once again in parallel with telecommunications, is that it is not saddled with old infrastructure. If India builds better airports (and, remembering Bangalore Airport, proper roads to reach them), the increasing numbers of air travelers will help the airlines grow. That story is true in many other fields: Banking and financial services, retail, real estate. India’s “demographic dividend” of an increasing number of young, working, upwardly-mobile people will drive internal demand for some years to come. The Asian Century is well on its way; and this is only as it should be, because up until 200 years ago, Asia dominated the world, as it will in future.
March 26, 2007
Part I has been posted at rediff.
My objective here is to show that Nandigram is only a small symptom of the destructiveness of Communists who are arguably the worst human-rights violators in history, with the possible exceptions of the Christian and Mohammedan imperialists. Communists are the fascists par excellence.
Intriguingly, Communism is eerily identical to the established Christian entities.
Vatican = Soviets
Protestants = Chinese
Reformation = the schism between the Soviets and the Chinese
Paul = Engels
Christ = Marx
Pope = Mao
Early Martyrs = Che Guevara et al
Missionaries = Marxists
Bible = Das Kapital + Mao’s Red Book
Baptists, Pentecostals, Methodists, etc. = Marxists, Maoists, Shining Path, Khmer Rouge
I am sure you can think of many more exact analogies.
There are Communists of many stripes, who profess various differences — but their internal ideological battles are roughly as immaterial as the minor doctrinal differences between the various splinter Christian cults.
Their common factor is that they destroy people and lands that they take over.
Part 1 — Rajeev Srinivasan on why the common man doesn’t matter to Communists
There is nothing in the way the Communists of West Bengal conducted themselves at Nandigram that should have amazed anybody. There have been enough instances of Communists demonstrating that despite all their pious propaganda about the rights of the common man, in practice Communism is mostly about self-aggrandizement and the growth of the State at the expense of the populace.
Nandigram: Communism as fascism – Part II
Rajeev Srinivasan on why the common man doesn’t matter to Communists
There were a couple of things the Rediff people edited out, so here’s what I said originally vs. their edited version. They are careful to edit out certain things, and I find their edits are not unreasonable
original: The Jallianwallah Bagh parallel is obvious: just as agents of a foreign power (Britain) used Indian soldiers to shoot down Indian civilians without mercy, here people who are in effect agents of a foreign power (China) used Indian policemen to shoot down Indian civilians without mercy.
edited: The Jallianwallah Bagh parallel is obvious.
original: A famous comrade woman, who was captured on film after the hijacking of Indian Airlines flight chivvying on the families of the hostages to force the Center to capitulate, was seen after Nandigram forcefully asserting the State’s “right” to kill people!
edited: they dropped “woman”
original: Which leads the impartial observer to conclude that crony capitalism and Communism go hand-in-hand, and that the comrades have no compunctions about getting their snouts in the pork-barrel of baksheesh from the allegedly hated capitalists. Every rogue has his price, clearly.
edited: Which leads the impartial observer to conclude that crony capitalism and Communism go hand-in-hand.
March 26, 2007
I wrote this a few weeks ago, but forgot to post it here:
I wonder how the synergy story makes sense and how the Tatas may have been forced to overpay because of the last-minute appearance of CSN in the bidding.
Is this a pyrrhic victory?
January 25, 2007
Uttarayanam: A time of hope, of new beginnings
Rajeev Srinivasan reflects on the season of hope
According to traditional lore, Makara Sankranti is the peak of Winter: after all, it marks the Winter Solstice, the Shortest Day, although it is late by a couple of weeks because of the precession of the Earth’s axis. In the Indian calendar, there are six rtus or seasons: vasantam, grishmam, varsham, sarat, hemantam, sisiram. I always find this a time to take stock, contemplate, regroup, and await the arrival of Spring, vasantam.
I remember the patriarch Bhishma, grievously wounded and resting on his bed of arrows, awaiting the arrival of the auspicious time of uttarayanam, literally the passage of the Sun to the North. For he had been given a boon that he could die at a time of his choosing. It is telling that, in contrast to the very European Dr. Faustus, who could never decide on the perfect moment, the very Indian Bhishma knew exactly what the moment was. India, in a way on its own sara-sayya, awaits its time to blossom again.
November 2, 2006
This column is at http://www.rediff.com/news/2006/nov/13rajeev.htm
There is no point in my reposting it here (unless rediff had edited something out, which they don’t seem to have done.)
I have been intrigued by some of the comments on both parts of this column. Let me say that I was merely celebrating the 50th anniversary of the founding of the southern states. I wasn’t looking to put northern India down: if I were, I’d come straight out and say it, I wouldn’t beat about the bush and be coy. No, I was just observing that the southern states have managed to blunder along and now seem to have a teeny-weeny advantage in a globalized world.
As for language, I have mellowed a bit in my old age, but I have been quite um… shall we say, forceful, in the past on this topic. You can find four previous columns of mine here, and no, I am not going to rehash those arguments. You can believe whatever you want, and that’s fine with me, I am not trying to ‘convert’ anybody:
A small point of fact: there are nineteen or so national languages in India, every one that is printed on a rupee note. They are *all* defined as national languages in the Constitution.
Two languages get a special mention, as ‘official languages’. These are English and Hindi.
Anybody who is not convinced about the economic might of India should really read the voluminous tables in Angus Maddison’s book, which is available for free download on the Web.
Anyone who isn’t convinced of India’s tremendous contributions to intellectual property development should read an old column of mine and follow up on the links:
October 31, 2006
The Stanford Business School and Engineering School have a program in January 2007. Here are the details. stanford1.pdf
October 20, 2006
Here is a picture of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, part of the Hindu diaspora’s flowering.
I wrote the following in 1994 for Hinduism Today.
The Hindu Work Ethic: or, The New “Hindu Rate of Growth”
by Rajeev Srinivasan India has suddenly become a fashionable destination for investment; many large companies view India as a must-have market. Is this a flash in the pan, given her enormous problems of underdevelopment? I think not: because there is a fundamental Hindu work ethic. In fact, the 21st century, rather than being the Pacific century, will really be the Asian century, and India will be a major player in this.