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

The Empire strikes back

August 10, 2010

A version of the following appeared in DN&A on Aug 10th, 2010 at http://www.dnaindia.com/opinion/comment_britain-needs-to-show-contrition-about-the-raj-s-depredations_1421101.

A pdf of the page is at http://epaper.dnaindia.com/epaperpdf/10082010/9main%20edition-pg10-0.pdf

The Empire strikes back

The Cameron visit reflected realities, but we must not forget imperial barbarity: never again!

The recent India visit of UK’s prime minister David Cameron got less attention than it deserved. Cameron was clear that his intent was to build up business ties, reflecting the relative importance of the UK and India in the global economy. Cameron was explicit that he was speaking to India on equal terms; some might even say, to be dramatic, that he was a supplicant with a begging-bowl.

Cameron also made a statement about Pakistan’s role in terrorism in the Indian subcontinent, which, to any impartial observer, was justified by the evidence, especially the recent uncovering of 92,000 secret US Army documents. Cameron merely observed that Pakistan must be not be allowed to, well, speak with forked tongue, and export terror, which it seems to do quite happily today.

Besides, India refused to even talk of British poverty-reduction aid. But what was more interesting was the reaction of the British media to what they perceived as the humiliation of the British nation when it has to beseech India to increase trade with it.

India is waxing, and the UK waning. India’s economy will overtake the British economy even in nominal (it already has in PPP) terms soon. I have asked a number of Britons what exactly their core competence is – and the inevitable answer is “financial services”. Yes, that makes sense, because after all Britain manufactures practically nothing anybody else wants.

Britain has come full circle in that regard. When they appeared at the imperial Chinese court circa 1750, seeking trade, the Chinese told them they needed nothing of British origin. Of course, thereupon clever Brits introduced opium, which did make the addicted Chinese open up their purse-strings. Which opium (or in Marx’s terminology, opiate), I wonder, do the Brits have in mind now for India?

Intriguingly “financial services” is a euphemism for “the interest earned on the money we looted from your country”. I did a little accounting of the systematic loot by Britain, based on estimates by contemporary scholars such as William Digby and  Dadabhai Navroji, and later historians. The number is astronomical, not less than $1 trillion, and possibly as much as $10 trillion in today’s money. For comparison, US GDP is about $13 trillion. They don’t have much else: they have even pawned the East India Company and other family jewels. Hard times, indeed.

Not surprisingly, there was an outburst in the UK Daily Mail titled “Stop saying sorry for our history: For too long our leaders have been crippled by a post-imperial cringe”. This was from an obvious Blimp-type named Dominic Sandbrook who clearly felt peeved that Indians preferred independence.

What apologies? The British have never apologized for empire, nor have they given any reparations. Compare this to the decent Japanese, who, the Chinese have learned, can be made to cough up billions just by jumping up and down and screaming “Rape of Nanking”.

Even if there were no apology, an acknowledgment of mala fide would help. Instead, the visit of the British Queen and her husband a few years ago produced the black comedy of their insensitivity to the horrors of imperial rule. It appears the husband, Prince Phillip, is one of those upper-class people immortalized by PG Wodehouse (think Bertie Wooster, Gussie Fink-Nottle).

Phillip had the audacity to go to Jallianwallah Bagh and declare that there were really not that many casualties there. When asked to substantiate this startling statement, he airily said General Dyer’s son had told him. And who is General Dyer? Why, merely the guy who had ordered the firing at Jallianwallah Bagh. Talk of conflict of interest!

Sandbook’s broadside was followed by another by Nirpal Dhaliwal titled “Britain has no need to make an apology for Empire…”. I beg to differ. Britain, at the very least, needs to apologize for Jallianwallah Bagh – you know, defenseless crowd in a walled garden with no access, 1675 bullets, 1579 casualties?

And how about the horrifying famines circa 1890, which left upto 20 million Indians dead? The classic account of this, “Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World” by Mike Davis should be made compulsory reading in Indian schools. So should “The Raj Syndrome: A Study in Imperial Perceptions” by Suhash Choudhary, a brilliant expose of the belly of the beast.

We need to know that under British rule there were 31 major famines in 200 years, as opposed to 17 in the preceding 2000 years.

We need to know history so the healing can begin. Those wronged deserve apologies. The West is pretty bad at contrition. Every year, on August 5th and August 9th, there is no American repentance about the atomic bombs it dropped. I have been to Nagasaki’s peace park, close to Ground Zero. There are solemn memorials there from many countries, but not the US.

825 words, Aug 8, 2010

Errata: It is Suhash Chakravarti, not Suhash Choudhary, who wrote the outstandingly brilliant ‘The Raj Syndrome’

A version of this appeared in DNA on Jun 15th at:

http://www.dnaindia.com/opinion/main-article_parlous-state-of-temples_1396426

and here’s the pdf for the full page:

http://epaper.dnaindia.com/epaperpdf/15062010/14main%20edition-pg12-0.pdf

The parlous state of Hindu temples in India

Rajeev Srinivasan believes government has no business running temples into the ground

There was shocking news recently about the collapse of the raja-gopuram of the Sri Kalahasti temple near Tirupati. This is no ordinary temple – it hosts one of the five important Saivite jyotir-lingas, each associated with one of the elements (earth, wind, fire, air and ether). The gopuram was built by Krishnadeva Raya of Vijayanagar in 1516 CE, although the shrine itself is a millennium or two older. Most nations would treat such ancient monuments as a treasured part of its cultural heritage, but not India.

The 150-foot tower, a typical Southern-style vimana with intricate carvings, was damaged by lightning some years ago, yet absolutely nothing was done by the authorities. After the collapse, to add insult to injury, a report by a commission said the tower had “outlived its life”. Would this same logic apply to, say, the Taj Mahal – has that outlived its life? It is the business of the State to maintain its cultural heritage and artifacts. There are reports of similar damage to other temple towers, eg. at Srirangapatna near Mysore.

Then there was the news that the Kerala High Court lambasted the Travancore Devaswom Board for being corrupt and inefficient. The Court observed that Hindu temples are struggling“orphanages”, poorly maintained and falling apart; Hindus are orphans.

Furthermore, a Cochin Devaswom Board official got drunk and vomited within the temple precincts at the Siva temple at Vaikom, necessitating elaborate purification ceremonies. This is also no ordinary temple – a major Saivite shrine, it is also historically important. It was the Vaikom Satyagraha in 1924 that led the way to the dramatic Temple Entry Proclamation in Travancore in 1936. And the official’s ‘punishment’? He was promoted to Vigilance Officer!

All these events point to an abomination in the allegedly secular Indian State – there is no separation of Church (meaning religion) and State, as is the norm in modern nations. The State must be indifferent to religion, and it should not allow religious sentiments to color its actions — the true definition of the term ‘secularism’.

A Devaswom Board is an oxymoron. There should be no involvement of the State in religion, which should be left to individuals and religious groups. In fact, that is so with non-Hindu religions in India – they can run their own affairs with no interference from the government, except for largesse – such as Haj subsidies for Muslims, and Andhra’s own subsidies for Christians to travel to Palestine/Israel on pilgrimage.

On the other hand, Hindu temples are under the control of an interfering State, with disastrous results: they are being destroyed systematically by the rapine and pillage of the malign State. On the one hand, temple offerings are expropriated by the State; yet, the State does not even perform basic maintenance. The offerings, amounting to crores, from large shrines such as Tirupati or Sabarimala, are simply treated as general government revenue, and are not recycled to small, poor temples.

Traditionally, temples were the centers of the community, running cultural events, acting as a focal point for efforts such as water conservation, drought relief, famine avoidance, and so forth. This is in the racial memory of Hindus – and so we contribute whatever we can afford to the temple. The State has found it convenient to appropriate these funds. The pittance that a poor believer donates is grabbed and diverted by the Government!

The malice is obvious in Kerala where the State controls most of the temples through the Devaswom Boards, which, it is said, are infiltrated by atheists and anti-Hindus. It can be seen in the difference between Board temples and others. The latter, private temples belonging often a joint family, are thriving, while the Board-controlled temples are impoverished, falling apart, and finding their lands stolen.

I found this to my chagrin at my own family’s centuries-old temple, which we had handed over to the Travancore Devaswom Board about a hundred years ago. On my previous visit, about five years ago, the temple, while old, was thriving. Today, it is on the verge of being abandoned, thanks to indifference and possibly even malice on the part of the Board: an alleged renovation has been totally botched.

This is, amazingly, a continuation of a colonial-era crime – a British Resident named Munro, a missionary bigot, forced the Maharani of Travancore circa 1819 CE to commingle temple lands with government lands, with the result that a lot of those lands, essential to the income and running of temples, were alienated. Consequently, the 10,000+ temples in Travancore then have now been reduced to a mere 2,000.

Governments have no business interfering in religion. It is a crime against the people of India for the government to ruin these cultural treasures, a common heritage of this nation.

815 words, June 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.

An edited version of this appeared on rediff on May 6th at http://news.rediff.com/column/2010/may/06/rajeev-srinivasan-on-the-banality-of-evil.htm

Why good people do bad things: the ordinariness of evil

Rajeev Srinivasan on why normal people do appalling things in the wrong circumstances

In the aftermath of the Ajmal Kasab trial and the failed bomb attack in New York, the impartial observer would find it hard to conclude that Pakistanis were mild, inoffensive people. But in fact there are a number of people – apart from the professional Wagah candle-holders – who cannot believe that this kind of horror could come from the kind of Pakistanis they know – PLUs (people like us), urbane, sophisticated, great hosts and dinner companions.

There is, of course, the fallacy of rapid generalization: every Pakistani is not like the people you know, who are likely to be the world-traveling sort. There are many dirt-poor, uneducated people who have been brainwashed with strange notions of what Indians are like and what India is like. Given high population growth and a fairly stagnant economy, the number of these “Bottom-of-the-Pyramid” people is much larger than those at the top of the pyramid, the 22 ruling feudal families who own the place.

But apart from the logical fallacy, there is also a more subtle issue, that of how easily evil can take over  even perfectly normal, well-adjusted people. It turns out you don’t have to be a sociopath to do the most horrifying things: your random neighbors, such as the kindly old man down the street, the kid who drops off the newspaper, the old lady who is full of religious zeal – any and all of them can turn into monsters under the appropriate circumstances.

This was demonstrated in Cambodia, when under the Khmer Rouge, perfectly ordinary people became mass killers. I have been to Tuol Sleng prison and interrogation center in the middle of Phnom Penh, where thousands of people were tortured, and confessions extracted from them. They were photographed and meticulous dossiers prepared about each of them. They were then taken to the Killing Fields on the outskirts of town and dispatched with a blow to the back of the head with a spade.

But what is most amazing about Tuol Sleng is that it was formerly a school in the middle of a residential neighborhood! It still looks like an inoffensive school from outside, although inside it is the Genocide Museum, with the interrogation cells left as they were, harrowing paintings of inhuman torture, and row after row of black and white photographs of those who were about to die, including some Indians and other foreigners. It is a metaphor for the banality and very ordinariness of evil. The Khmer Rouge were the greatest mass-murderers in the recent past, killing some 15% of their compatriots.

Ordinary Cambodians – farmers, artisans, bicycle-repairers, fishermen – were instruments of civilizational suicide. Similarly, perfectly normal Hutus went on the warpath in Rwanda against  embattled Tutsis, attempting genocide. Ordinary Germans did the bidding of the Nazis; ordinary Europeans participated in an orgy of violence on innocent people during the horrifying Inquisition, dispatching thousands, especially women, in the most appalling ways.

And so with the Pakistanis. The young men of the Lashkar-e-Toiba and other terrorist outfits were not monsters to begin with: they were turned into what they are quite deliberately – they have been manufactured by a consciously-created system where they have no choice but to become monsters.

I was reminded of all this when I was listening to an archived podcast from 2007 of an interview with Philip Zimbardo, a retired professor from Stanford, whose celebrated “Stanford Prison Experiment” of 1971 was a startling practical demonstration of how evil is engendered. In 2006, Zimbardo wrote a new book, The Lucifer Effect, because he was struck by similarities between the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq and the Stanford experiment.

The experiment was simple: Zimbardo set up a simulated prison in the basement of one of Stanford’s buildings, and recruited 24 normal male college students for a two-week study of the behavior of prison guards and prisoners. The students were randomly assigned to either role and given uniforms or prison smocks to wear, but no specific instructions on behavior except that there must be no physical contact. Zimbardo himself acted as both ‘jail superindendent’ and research leader.

The results were startling: within 36 hours, the ‘guards’ started misbehaving, exerting their power over the ‘prisoners’. One of the prisoners had a nervous breakdown. Within three days, the guards were exhibiting brutal, sadistic behavior, and the prisoners were increasingly humiliated and oppressed. Several other prisoners also had nervous breakdowns. On the night of day five, sexual torture began: the prisoners were made to expose themselves, and to simulate sodomy with each other.

On the sixth day, a shaken Zimbardo abandoned the experiment, which had been slated to run for two weeks. He was shocked to realize that certain dangerous boundaries were being crossed, and that some of the participants might end up with permanent psychological damage.

The fact that perfectly normal, intelligent college students – they had been screened for any abnormality – could so easily be turned into sadistic monsters is astonishing. Apparently the situation had gotten the better of them:

Perhaps the normal human condition is indeed the Hobbesian “nasty, brutish and short”. Maybe “Lord of the Flies”, the book about a group of boys abandoned on an island evolving into a dictatorial society, is all too true. Perhaps the Law of the Jungle is indeed the right metaphor, much as we like to think of ourselves as civilized beyond fang and claw and might-is-right.

In a related study, the Milgram Experiment at Yale analyzed the willingness of volunteers to administer electric shocks to unseen victims based on orders from authority figures. It turned out that – with no gender differences – people were quite willing to torture people whom they had never met. (The shocks were simulated, and so were the recorded screams of the recipients, but the subjects didn’t know that.)

Zimbardo believes that it is not the individual’s own inherent tendencies, but the social situation around them that drives bad behavior. That can help us understand the pathology of the Pakistani situation. These young men have been told for such a long time that Indians and Hindus are evil and monstrous that they have internalized it. It is the environment that addles them. Therefore, expending a lot of effort on the arrest and prosecution of individual terrorists is not going to have a major impact, because they are expendable – there are many waiting in line, ready to step into their shoes. In that sense, it is immaterial what happens to Ajmal Kasab – he is simply cannon fodder, dispensable.

It is the system that is psychotic, and it is so by intent. That is why Pakistan refuses steadfastedly to move against those who have created the system: for instance, Hafiz Saeed of the Jamaat-ul Dawa (the current nom-de-guerre of the Lashkar-e-Toiba). The Pakistanis have refused again and again to prosecute Saeed, just as they refuse to extradite Dawood Ibrahim. These are strategic assets for the ISI. People like Hamil Gul, ex-ISI eminence-grise, have articulated the grim calculus of this perspective.

The system in Pakistan was put in place by General Zia-ul-Haq, who fundamentalized education, the Army, and the rest of society (it may be remembered that Zia in effect banned the use of the ‘Hindu’ sari, and encouraged the ‘Pakistani’ salwar-kameez). The textbooks were re-written to eulogize Central Asian invaders. History begins with the Arab invasion of Sind in 712 CE. The word ‘Hindu’ is always preceded by ‘cunning baniya’. The idea that a single Mohammedan soldier is worth ten Hindus in valor was put about, notwithstanding considerable evidence to the contrary.

American psychologist Sam Keen suggested in Faces of the Enemy that a major part of warfare lies in dehumanizing the enemy. Every nation has created extraordinary propaganda against its enemies: by internalizing this, young soldiers are able to kill other young men without compunction, because they believe the enemy are sub-human monsters intent on raping ‘our’ women, destroying ‘our’ nation, and so on. The  book includes hundreds of posters, cartoons and other material from 20th century propaganda, which Keen calls the “archetype of the hostile imagination”.

Surely, there is Indian propaganda against Pakistan; however, it is on a secular plane, and does not target Pakistanis based on religion. In fact, average Mohammedans are better off in India as compared to anywhere else in the world, including, and especially Pakistan, where only the feudal upper classes (castes) live well. In  North India (as seen in Vikram Seth’s “A Suitable Boy”, there is a certain admiration – justified or not – for some alleged nawabi high culture, possibly because using Farsi/Arabic is considered cultured by some.

And the leftists in the media are ever-ready to cry themselves hoarse in the service of poor Mohammedans. Not to mention a government with a Prime Minister who says without irony, “Muslims must have first claim on the nation’s resources”, which is, in passing, strange from someone sworn to uphold the religion-blind Constitution.

But that is not what Pakistanis believe. In encounters with middle-class Pakistanis in America and on the Internet, I have heard how glad they are that there is a homeland for subcontinental Mohammedans who would otherwise have been oppressed by Hindus. They are silent, however, when I point out that there are, in fact, two homelands, and how the one homeland couldn’t keep half of its inhabitants happy and started a genocidal war with them.

This incomprehension about India was seen in the transcripts of the conversations by the 11/26 terrorists with their handlers in Pakistan: the terrorists were obviously confused that India was not a whole lot like what they had been brainwashed into believing.

Thus, it is the environment, of radicalization and mind-games, that is creating a cadre of evil-doers. Any amount of ‘talks’ and ‘goodwill gestures’ and ‘walking the extra mile’ is unlikely to change the situation unless the hate-mongering institutions with a monomanical jihadi agenda are dismantled. So long as India cannot get Pakistan to do this, there will be an endless supply of cannon fodder.

There is another issue – terrorism has now become a job, and quite a lucrative one at that. Zimbardo is of the opinion that a lot of the brutality in the Stanford Experiment and at Abu Ghraib happened because of simple boredom, especially at night, when the guards had nothing better to do and wanted some entertainment – perhaps the ultimate in the banality of evil.

In the case of the Pakistanis, and, alas, in the case of a number of home-grown terrorists in India, terrorism has now become an easy and attractive job, with perks like foreign trips (eg. to Pakistan via Dubai to throw people off the scent), cash (including counterfeit Indian rupees shipped in container-loads), women (who will dare say “no” to an AK-47?) and so on. For an ill-educated youth with poor prospects, this must be like manna from heaven. This has been demonstrated in Kerala where a number of young men were trained and shipped off to J&K as mercenaries/jihadis to kill Indian soldiers.

Thus, the cognitive dissonance between the “they are just like us” ordinary citizens of Pakistan and the ruthless killers is a matter of their environment. Unless it is cleaned up, and the godfathers of the system such as Hamid Gul, Hafiz Saeed and Dawood Ibrahim forced to stand down, India – and (note to President Obama) the West — will continue to face evil and bleed. It is not the individuals, but the system of propaganda and inducement of hatred that is to blame. And that suits the Pakistani establishment just fine: it sustains their failing State.

This was published at http://news.rediff.com/column/2009/nov/11/rajeev-srinivasan-on-the-struggle-for-dharma.htm

Roses in November: In search of righteousness
Rajeev Srinivasan on why Dharma underlies every act in India
After all the festivities of Navaratri and Deepavali, November arrives with several anniversaries of some significance. These are, in one way or the other, related to the idea of Dharma, and thus closely entwined with the very basis of Indian civilization. As metaphors, they are a good counterpoint to the slaying of the buffalo-demon by the Goddess – an icon that goes back to Indus-Sarasvati times. Clearly, the struggle for Dharma is never wholly won.
Read the rest of this entry »

Published by the Pioneer on May 4:

http://www.dailypioneer.com/173668/Triumph-and-tragedy-in-Sri-Lanka.html

The news and the images coming out of Sri Lanka are horrendous: 100,000 Tamil civilians trapped on a tiny beach, where cadres of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are making their last stand . The LTTE are using the civilians as shields (according to the Sri Lankan government); and government troops have shelled hospitals and killed thousands of non-combatants this year (according to The Economist quoting human-rights groups and the UNHCR).

The photographs of long-suffering Tamil refugees fleeing the war with nothing more than the clothes on their backs remind us of the curse of the Indian subcontinent: religion- and ethnicity-based conflict, generally leading to the genocide of Hindus. We saw this in 1947 and 1971. Millions of Hindus were ethnically cleansed from Pakistan and Bangladesh then, and the handful remaining are now fleeing newly-Talibanized territories; now they are being driven out of Sri Lanka’s Jaffna and the Eastern Provinces at the fag-end of a brutal civil war.

The LTTE certainly did not expect to fade into oblivion, their leader Velupillai Prabhakaran a fugitive. Only a couple of years ago, the Tigers were rampant, scoring victories on land and sea, and terrorizing Colombo with their makeshift air force. What turned things around? Probably much covert aid from governments, including India’s, wary of the Tigers’ penchant for redrawing boundaries by force (and China’s, fishing in troubled waters).

That, and internal dissension. The turning point was the defection in 2004 of ‘Colonel’ Karuna Amman, formerly LTTE commander in the Eastern Province. The LTTE ran a tight ship, and defectors generally were liquidated, but Karuna – as reported by the Wall Street Journal last year — thrived, and has become a minister, although he is at loggerheads with his erstwhile protégé and now-Chief Minister of the Eastern Province, Pillaiyan.

After sama (negotiations) and dana (give-aways) failed, bheda (creating dissent) worked, and now the Sri Lankans are applying the last of the four tactics of classical Indian stagecraft, danda (punishment). This is an object lesson for India’s pusillanimous politicians who advocate sweet-talk and appeasement of terrorists; and for Obamistas, advocating land-for-peace (India’s land, that is, to be given to Pakistan, so that the ISI would leave the Americans in peace). Pandering does not work, the iron fist does. Crush the terrorists first, then talk to real people.

There is a startling silence in India about the plight of the Sri Lankan Tamils. This has to do with two factors: one is that most of the shrieking banshees in the human-misery cottage-industry do not care about the human rights of Hindus, and Sri Lankan Tamils are about 85% Hindu. Second is that the killing of Rajiv Gandhi by the LTTE, and the incessant noise by the DMK in their favor has genuinely turned off many people. The LTTE’s idea of its Tamil Eelam (they have taken down the maps on their website showing this) consists of north and eastern Lanka, all of Tamil Nadu and Kerala and parts of Karnataka and Andhra: in other words, most of South India. This is comparable to the jihadi wet-dream of a ‘Mughalistan’ consisting of most of North India.

It further appears that this ‘Eelam’ was meant to be a Christian-stan, in fearsome symmetry with ‘Mughalistan’. Let us note in passing that at Partition, missionaries had demanded a Christian-stan consisting of the Northeast, tribal areas of the Central Provinces (Chota Nagpur), and Travancore. Clearly, they have not given up the idea of territorial gains through any means.

The church has a well-known modus operandi. In Rwanda, the church fomented genocide by dividing Hutus and Tutsis – who, to the casual observer, and to the geneticist, appear identical – through claiming that the former were short and dark, and the latter were tall and fair, and that Tutsis were oppressing Hutus. Several Christian godmen and godwomen have been convicted of crimes against humanity for their direct role in massacres of Tutsis.

In India too, the church has fabricated a divide between the alleged ‘Aryans’ and ‘Dravidians’ – tall and fair vs. short and dark, oppressor, oppressed, sound familiar? – which was initially the handiwork of a white padre named Caldwell. It remains an interesting but little-known fact that churchman Max Mueller who invented the entire ‘Aryan’ fiction recanted in later years, admitting he was wrong.

The church has had a dubious role in Sri Lanka too. It is surely curious that most of the famous cadres of the LTTE are Christians (examples include Prabhakaran himself who is a Methodist, Anton Balasingham, the suicide-bomber Dhanu who killed Gandhi). Senior non-Christians in the LTTE, remarkably, have been captured, have died in battle, or been liquidated.

And the LTTE has wiped out all other groups representing the Tamil cause. The very ruthlessness of the LTTE is an indicator of its Semitic thought-process. Buddhists and Hindus have always co-existed peacefully all over Asia – in India, Indonesia, Afghanistan, etc. – until West Asian ideologies appeared. The church, and the LTTE, had no use for moderates or for negotiation.

There is another party with ill-intent in all this: China. As part of their ‘string of pearls’ strategy, they previously supported violent Communist insurgents, but these were wiped out by the Sri Lankan government. Now the Chinese are supplying heavy equipment, including planes and artillery to the army. Their likely objective: the prized deep-water port of Trincomalee, which would help them control shipping in the Indian Ocean, not to mention be a serious problem for India in its own backyard.

But with the apparent demise of the LTTE, the Sri Lankan government should be able to negotiate from a position of strength. Tamils can see that militancy and terrorism has achieved nothing but catastrophe for them. The Sinhalese, if they are wise, will deal magnanimously with their Tamil fellow-countrymen and reconcile with them. They must recognize that Tamils have genuine grievances arising from bumiputra-style discrimination against them for decades. They need to appreciate that the LTTE are not synonymous with Tamils. Then Sri Lanka can become the success story of the subcontinent with its superior health and education record.