A slightly edited version of the following was published on firstpost.com on feb 8th at http://www.firstpost.com/india/2g-scam-scapegoat-escapegoat-and-clawback-of-loot-206788.html


Scapegoat, escapegoat, and clawback in 2G


Rajeev Srinivasan says the implications of the rulings on the 2G scam are intriguing, but wonders why there is no talk of recouping the moneys spirited away


There is really such a thing as a scapegoat in Jewish lore. According to the Talmud and the Bible, it was customary in Jewish villages in West Asia to declare a particular she-goat as the source/receptacle of all the troubles and/or sins of the villagers. On a particular day (Day of Atonement), the she-goat was banished into the desert wilderness, and the slate wiped clean for the villagers. That is the scapegoat.


Of course, in modern usage, the term refers to a possibly innocent bystander, who is declared to be the one to be blamed so that the others can go off scot-free. In many firms, there is a ritual that follows a failed project, where the culprits anoint somebody as the owner of all the problems: this phase (not usually mentioned in process manuals) is called “the massacre of the innocents” and is religiously followed.


But there could also be ‘escapegoats’: that is, the really guilty, who, by dint of adroitly blaming the ‘scapegoat’, manage to look innocent. It is usually these people who do very well in corporations, as they have figured out the fine art of teflonizing themselves – nothing sticks to them (of course other than undeserved praise).


In India, scapegoating has been raised to a fine art by the masters of the universe, the political class. Recently, we have seen a classic case of all this in the twin 2G decisions made by the judiciary.


On the one hand, the Supreme Court made a landmark decision, based on Subramanian Swamy’s plea, to cancel the licenses of 122 spectrum allottees who are accused of benefiting from an unfair, opaque and corrupt process. On the other hand, a special CBI court dismissed an appeal from Swamy to include home minister P Chidambaram in the list of those to be investigated.


The first is a ringing endorsement for the rule of law in India. Taken together with the Supreme Court’s verdict quashing the imposition of capital gains taxes on Vodafone recently (the taxation violated common international M&A practices), this shows that the Indian legal system is dependable and sensible, although it might be slow to act.


That is a particularly good signal to send to investors, especially in comparison to countries with notoriously unfriendly judicial systems (eg. China). Some of those involved (such as foreign telecom companies that had tied up with dubious Indian partners) have claimed that the cancellation of the licenses brands India as business-unfriendly, because decisions made at one point (or by one government) could be overturned at a later point (by another government or the judiciary).


On the contrary, the Supreme Court action suggests that it is not a good idea to go in for illegal hanky-panky in India, and that you do so at your own risk. In fact, many nations in the West already have in place laws to prevent foreign corrupt practices. The US version caused Lockheed to be censured when they tried to sell planes using bribes. More recently, Siemens ended up paying over $1 billion in fines for their use of bribes in developing countries.


Besides, the cancellation sends a signal to those of the political class and bureaucracy in India – both notorious for corruption – that the judiciary may not turn a blind eye. And also that a determined plaintiff (such as the super-energetic Swamy) can use the existing laws to good effect if he persists.


The second decision, letting off P Chidambaram and preventing his being put on trial, is disappointing. If Chidambaram were indeed innocent, why should he not gladly stand trial, so he could exonerate himself? In some sense, the CBI court’s decision is an insult to Chidambaram, as it implies that the latter is, in fact, guilty. After all, the plaintiff merely sought to have him named in a suit, which he could have fought with the best lawyers money could buy. Thus the verdict, which is almost certain to be appealed in a High Court, leaves a little to be desired.


The fact remains, in any case, that there is some reason to believe that A Raja, currently languishing in Tihar jail, has been made the scapegoat, and that there are others, perhaps some of Those Who May Not Be Named, who have made good their ‘escapegoat’ routine. It can only be hoped that the indefatigable Swamy and others will persist in their exertions.


But there is one more aspect that seems, oddly, absent in this whole discussion on scapegoats and other beasts. That is the famous American idea of ‘clawback’, that is to say, a way of recouping the money that has been spirited away. We have seen in the fascinating case of Bernie Madoff, arch-con-artist, how the prosecutor has doggedly gone after the Madoff estate, put it into receivership, and attempted to claw back as much of the money as possible.


Why is there no attempt to do this in India? This is the greatest deterrent to the corrupt: that their pains may end up doing them no good, as the money will be taken away and they will be fined by the dreaded Income Tax authorities, to boot. This is one of the biggest deterrents against criminal behavior: for instance, Al Capone, the Chicago Mafioso, who was able to cover his tracks in all his illegal activity including (allegedly) massacres, was finally convicted of tax evasion.


The Americans are now going after its residents who are hiding money abroad to evade taxes, and have managed to pry open the veil of secrecy that offshore banks have used. For instance, in some settlements with major Swiss banks, they have tracked down billions of dollars in hidden accounts, and it shall soon be “the taxman knocketh on the doors” of those found guilty.


On the contrary, in India every politician and bureaucrat who indulges in corruption knows that after a huge fuss, he may (or may not) be sent to jail, but that his family will be able to enjoy the fruits of their ahem… toils, if not today, but in the future; and that, even if he is jailed, he will be able to rehabilitate himself some years later.


This sense of complacency needs to be attacked. Wrong-doers should have the full amount of their ill-gotten gains tracked down, and confiscated, and then some. The tax authorities should impose stiff fines – I am sure these are on the statute books – on undeclared income. If this is done to a few people – which might reduce them from upper class to middle class, in keeping with their income (remember the interesting phrase “assets disproportionate to known income”?), that would be exemplary.


Thus, in addition to the tamasha and sound and fury of scapegoats and escapegoats, plaintiffs with PILs and other suits should approach the judiciary with explicit pleas for clawing back the funds from those caught with their hands in the cookie jar.


1190 words, Feb 7th 2012

A slightly edited version of the following was published on firstpost.in on feb 22nd. their title focused on the fact of italy being one of the PIIGS: http://www.firstpost.com/world/kerala-murders-why-should-we-kowtow-to-one-of-the-piigs-221118.html

When will India stop rolling over and playing dead when its own are massacred?


Rajeev Srinivasan believes that it is not appropriate for the Indian Government to let foreigners ride roughshod over the rights of its citizens and disapora


As in any good thriller, there is little dispute about the facts: two Indian fishermen in a small boat were shot and killed by Italian navy personnel attached to an Italian merchant ship. The incident happened some twenty nautical miles off Ambalapuzha, and the boat had put to sea from the fishing harbor at Neendakara, near Kollam.


The Italian merchant ship Enrica Lexie is anchored off the larger port at Cochin, some 100 miles north of Kollam, and the two Italian sailors have been brought to Kollam. They are remanded, and not arrested: apparently there is some important distinction between the two.


There is, however, considerable confusion about the interpretation of the event. A diplomatic row has now erupted over whether the duo should be tried for murder under Indian law, or whether this must be decided in Italian courts.


From the Western perspective, the Italians were justified in their actions, because they thought the fishermen were pirates. And since they are concerned that their countrymen will not get due justice in India (we have all seen the movies about innocent white people incarcerated in hellhole prisons in developing countries), they would rather have the trial held in ‘civilized’ Italy. Hence the Italians are demanding diplomatic immunity.


To add to the pressure and the outrage, Italian netizens are calling for a boycott of Indian products. Frankly, I wonder who will be hurt more if there is a counter-boycott – surely India buys far more Italian stuff than vice versa.


From an Indian point of view, however, it seems mighty unusual that the Italians opened fire without warning: normal maritime practice suggests that even pirates or other undesirables be given notice before the application of deadly force. Besides, there have been no incidents of piracy this close to the Indian coast, and it is presumptuous to assume a priori that the intent of the small boat – which nobody claims had machine guns or other armaments on board – was mala fide.


To a neutral observer, this might appear to be an open-and-shut case of maritime law: while the shooting happened outside India’s territorial waters, an Indian-registered ship is deemed to be sovereign Indian territory. Therefore an assault on it by a foreign power could well be seen as ipso facto a hostile act. The observer might even grant that this is in effect a minor act of war!


Thus, it would be fair for India to act as the aggrieved party, and demand restitution and compensation under international law. But then, India has been known – pathetically – to not worry about the rights of its citizens (or of those of Indian origin). It is easily cowed by foreigners. Off the top of my head I can remember several occasions when India looked on haplessly while its citizens or disapora were massacred or brutalized:

  • Pakistanis invaded Mumbai on November 26, 2008
  • Bangladesh returned the bodies of several Indian soldiers trussed like pigs on bamboo poles
  • Air India’s Kanishka aircraft was blown up in the sky by terrorists; Canada allowed the subversion of the investigation
  • Navroze Mody, Khem Singh and Charanjit Singh Aujla, in separate incidents, were killed in the US, the last two by law enforcement officers
  • Idi Amin expelled Indians from Uganda
  • British immigration authorities imposed humiliating ‘virginity inspections’ on Indian women marrying men in the UK and immigrating there


And conversely, foreigners who wreak havoc and mayhem in India get off scot-free:

  • Italian arms merchant Octavio Quattrocchi was allowed to escape with his ill-gotten gains, with what looked like the active cooperation of Indian police
  • British perpetrators of an illegal arms drop in Purulia, West Bengal, were let off
  • The lone captured gunman from 11/26, Kasab, a Pakistani, is being treated with kid gloves, with amicus curiae demanding that he not be hanged

These incidents could be considered indicative of a poor Indian self-image: somehow the Indian government is incapable of (and uncaring about) the human rights of its own; it is far more worried about being given certificates of good conduct by the ‘international community’. This is a hangover from the bad old days of Nehruvian internationalism, which made the nation a laughing-stock (sort of like the laughable and bumbling Indian character H V Bakshi in Peter Seller’s rude The Party).

In the 1970’s, India was a banana republic, so Sellers might have been justified. But things are a little different now; Italy is one of the PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain) – little countries that are on the verge of financial meltdown and oblivion. As compared to India, which, if you believe Goldman Sachs, is poised to overtake the US as an economy in a few decades. India would be justified in throwing its weight around a little.

But beyond that, there is a tremendous amount of politics going on here, and the participants have not covered themselves with glory. First, the Manmohan Singh government has been limp-wristed; it should assert India’s sovereignty and demand an apology and reparations. In case they want precedent, see how Pakistan bullied the Americans over the deaths of 24 of their soldiers recently; or how the Chinese have bullied and shamed the Japanese for eighty years over the ‘Rape of Nanking’. But then, India has never even managed to get an expression of regret over Jallianwallah Bagh.

Second, there are the Vatican and the Indian Christian establishment, known to get outraged whenever there are allegations of human rights violations concerning Christians. For instance, the establishment Christians went ballistic over the alleged rape of a nun in Jhabua (which turned out to be a lie). How come the same outrage does not manifest itself when Catholic fishermen are shot by Italians? Is there some ‘understanding’ between the Vatican and Italy about murdering third worlders? And what is the role of the newly-elected Cardinal from Kochi in all this? Will he represent Indian interests or the Vatican’s interests or Italy’s interests?

Third, there is the strange case of the Kerala government led by the Congress’ Oommen Chandy. To be fair, they have not done anything deplorable, but they must surely be thinking of themselves as suffering from collateral damage. For, this government has a razor-thin majority of one seat, and there is a by-election coming up (caused by the death of a Congress minister).

If the CPI (M) manage to win this by-election, that might make Oommen Chandy’s tenure unviable, and the Kerala government may well be on a razors-edge, vulnerable to whimsical and opportunistic independents in case of a vote of no-confidence.

It is fair to wonder where any small evidence of backbone being shown by the Central Government is because of this fact. They know that the Communists will make enormous amounts of noise about colonialism and Italian imperialism: this incident must be like manna from heaven for them. The Kerala government is, anyway, under pressure in the Mullaperiyar issue, where it is, with justification, seen as having caved in abjectly.

That might well explain why this affair was not swept under the carpet and forgotten – the Communists can be trusted to rake it up. Surely, they cannot be blamed, although the casual observer might feel cognitive dissonance when the Communists wrap themselves in the Tricolor, abandoning their usual Red and China-worship.

There is a further irony. Kerala usually alternates between a Communist and a Congress government, with the current bunch being kicked out in a serious trouncing every five years. So it was the turn of the CPI(M) to be decimated last year. But oddly enough, they managed a decent showing, even though the electorate was sick and tired of their constant bickering (between then-CM Achuthanandan and party secretary Pinarayi Vijayan).

The Communists benefited the selection of Congress candidates was so poor that even safe seats and sure shots were put in jeopardy. If I am not mistaken, ‘youth’ candidates were put up and ended up being made mincemeat of. Thus, the dilemma that the Congress faces in Kerala – do nothing and the government may fall; do something and relations with Italy and by extension the West will suffer – is due to their own incompetence. Surely, there is poetic justice in this somewhere. Not that that will make amends for the families of poor Gelestin and Pinku, the dead men.

A version of the following was published on feb 14th by rediff at http://www.rediff.com/news/column/why-is-indian-culture-so-female/20120214.htm

No country for young women: Why is India inhospitable to them?


Rajeev Srinivasan whether the tragic cases of several women grievously injured in India has some larger lessons that we need to learn


It has been precisely one year since Sowmya was murdered in a particularly horrific manner. Her family’s sole bread-winner, she was working in a ‘Homestyle’ store in Cochin, Kerala. She was commuting by train to her home near Shoranur on 1st February 2011 when she was assaulted, raped, and left to die.


A one-armed vagrant named Charly aka Govindachami boarded a women’s compartment where Sowmya was the lone traveler. Apparently he terrorized poor Sowmya and chased her around the coach, smashing her head against the walls. Finally he pushed her out of the moving train on to the tracks.


The thug jumped out after her, raped the injured girl brutally on the tracks, and then bashed her head in with a rock. He left her to bleed to death. She lay in a coma for several days, and died on 6th February, 2011.


One November 11th 2011, Charly aka Govindachami was sentenced to death by hanging by a fast-track court. This is obviously a case in which capital punishment is imperative; judge K N Raveendra Babu also added a life sentence and rigorous imprisonment for seven years – presumably he felt that the death sentence may not be carried out.


The one-armed beggar’s defense – he did not deny the accusations of rape and murder, and the sentencing judge noted that he was also named in eight previous cases – was that he was a handicapped person, and therefore deserved compassion!


The viciousness of this act is shocking, especially in Kerala where women generally have had economic freedom and a large presence in the workforce for many years. I am sure many other women have begun to re-evaluate their personal safety when they commute to and from work by public transport.


The absolute cruelty of this act is only matched by the incredible story of Aruna Shanbaug, who has been in a coma for 38 years. When she was a 25-year-old nurse in Mumbai, she was choked with a dog chain and sodomized in the hospital basement by a sweeper. The asphyxiation cut off the blood supply to her brain, leaving her a vegetable, in which state she has remained.


Startlingly, it appears that her attacker, Sohanlal Walmiki, was only tried for robbery and attempted murder – and not for rape or sexual molestation or sodomy. He apparently served two concurrent seven-year sentences for the robbery and attempted murder, that’s it. No wonder Judge Raveendra Babu felt in Sowmya’s case that it was necessary to impose the additional punishments.


Then there is the remarkable case of Sister Abhaya. This 19-year-old was found dead in 1992 in the well of a Catholic convent in Kottayam, Kerala. The initial report suggested suicide and death by drowning, but on further investigation – thanks to the unceasing efforts of community activist Jomon Puthenpurackal – it is almost certain that it was a case of homicide: the actual cause of death appears to be head injuries caused by a blunt instrument.


Certain influential elements are rumored to have conspired to sweep this case under the carpet (the initial investigating officer Augustine committed suicide). There were attempts at character assassination against Sister Abhaya. After several investigations, which appeared to have been thwarted and sabotaged at every stage, the CBI finally arrested two Catholic priests, Kottur and Puthrakkayil, and a nun, Seffi, in 2008, sixteen years after Abhaya’s death.


Under narco-analysis, the trio, according to CBI reports, confessed as follows: Abhaya went to the kitchen early in the morning of her death to get a drink of water from the refrigerator. It appears Abhaya happened upon the nun and the two priests in “suspicious circumstances” in the kitchen. Worried about being exposed, Seffi hit Abhaya on the back of her head with the blunt end of an axe. Then, fearing she was dead, the trio dumped Abhaya’s body in the well. The CBI accused the trio of murder, destruction of evidence, and defamation.


In a remarkable coincidence – which observers noted was suspiciously convenient – soon after this, the Supreme Court held that the results of narco-analysis (also known as truth-serum-based analysis) could not be admitted as evidence. Thus, for all practical purposes, the Sister Abhaya case is in abeyance at best and is nullified at worst. Poor Abhaya, twenty years later, has not received justice, and probably never will.


Now comes the story of a 2-year old, severely abused girl-child named Falak who is fighting for her life at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. Although the details are murky, she was injured by a 15-year-old girl (herself sexually abused) accused of battering Falak and inflicting severe brain and chest injuries.


On top of this comes a UN report on the status of the girl-child (see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/india/9054429/India-most-dangerous-place-in-world-to-be-born-a-girl.html) which states baldly that India is the worst place in the world for a girl child, based primarily on the number of deaths of girls below five as compared to that of boys. China – widely known for its ‘missing women’ – is the other big culprit.


Why is Indian culture so anti-female? The statistics and the explanations about the malign neglect of girls make for grim reading; these are attributed to dowry and caste as though these were absolute truths. But most people do not realize that the current, offensive dowry system is a colonial-era construct, according to a landmark study by Veena Talwar Oldenburg of Baruch College, New York.


In her path-breaking 2002 book Dowry Murder: The imperial origins of a cultural crime Professor Oldenburg observes that the dowry system, which had been managed by women in pre-colonial times, was perverted by British colonial practices so that “an invaluable safety net was turned into a deadly noose”. Here is an excerpt from the description of the book:


…Veena Oldenburg argues that these killings are neither about dowry nor reflective of an Indian culture or caste system that encourages violence against women. Rather, such killings can be traced directly to the influences of the British colonial era. In the precolonial period, dowry was an institution managed by women, for women, to enable them to establish their status and have recourse in an emergency. As a consequence of the massive economic and societal upheaval brought on by British rule, women’s entitlements to the precious resources obtained from land were erased and their control of the system diminished, ultimately resulting in a devaluing of their very lives. Taking us on a journey into the colonial Punjab, Veena Oldenburg skillfully follows the paper trail left by British bureaucrats to indict them for interpreting these crimes against women as the inherent defects of Hindu caste culture…


Thus, as in many other things, it could be postulated that the devaluation of women was a consequence of imported British practices, imbued with patriarchal Christian ideas. Much the same can be said of the practice of child-marriage and purdah, which were imposed as a result of Muslim invasions.


This stands to reason, because traditional Indian culture places a premium on the female – note, for example that India is a motherland, not a fatherland. Strikingly, it is only in Indian religious thought that females are not subservient: observe the powerful figure of Kali, representing the female principle, depicted as dancing on the prone body of her consort. Or the benign mother-and-child image of Baby Krishna and Yasoda, a much-loved icon and metaphor. Or the figures of Gargi and Maitreyi, respected sages from Vedic and Upanishadic times.


In fact, India may well be an exception to the hypothesis that plough-based agrarian societies value male upper-body strength, as opposed to hoe-based agrarian societies, where women play an equal role in production (see the Economist article The plough and now from May 2011 http://www.economist.com/node/18986073 referring to a paper from N Nunn of Harvard and P Guiliano of UCLA, On the Origins of Gender Roles: Women and the Plough). Their hypothesis suggests that long-lived prejudices about the (lack of) value of women arise in plough-based societies.


In contrast, Kerala, with its strong agricultural tradition based on paddy cultivation – and thus the plough – is matrilinear and matriarchal among its Hindus, which has almost certainly led to its excellent (girl) child-mortality rates and high life expectancy for women (76 years, roughly the same as for white women in the US).


The experience of women in the Northeast is similar, and there also there are pockets of matriliny. The participation of women in the workplace is high in both these areas – women on average have greater economic independence; and fertility has come down as men seek to marry employed women, and are loath to lose their income should they get pregnant frequently.


The conclusion then is that there is nothing inherently anti-female in India, but that there are certain entrenched, perverted social attitudes. That is small consolation for Sowmya, Aruna and Abhaya, true, but individuals in every society do suffer. For instance, despite the accusations of widespread dowry deaths, it turns out that, as a percentage, more women in the US are killed by husbands and boyfriends than those killed in dowry disputes in India.


That is the good news – there is nothing inherent in Indian culture that makes it inhospitable to women; but there is the hangover from colonial practices, which should disappear with greater educational freedom for women, and also, ironically, because of the looming woman shortage due to selective foeticide. There is no room for complacency, though.


Societal change does not come on its own. For instance, the anti-tobacco effort really did not take off until the problem of second-hand smoke was publicized heavily, and non-smokers understood the dangers to themselves from inhaling smoke. Similarly, it is necessary to introduce public awareness campaigns on the value of the girl-child; the fact that often your daughter is more willing than your daughter-in-law to tend to you in your old age may well be the clincher.


1700 words, 5 February, 2012

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