My loud thinking concerning the recent questions about Narendra Modi

Recently, I felt like writing a response to the following questions [^] as soon as I read them:

“What is Narendra Modi? A visionary and a statesman? Or a demagogue and master orator who can tailor a speech to his audience?

And there is another question too. One that I believe is even more important. What do Modi’s supporters really want? Development or Hindutva?”

The answer I wrote on the fly [and as usual, at a great length] appears below, but, first, an important note: I am just copy-pasting my answer. It certainly needs to be edited, but in the meanwhile, there was a kind of medical emergency at home and so, I will do the editing/expansion later. [My mother had to be hospitalized soon later, on Feb 11th; she still is in hospital—and, BTW, this is a reference which I am going to remove in the subsequent editing.]

As far as editing goes, in particular: the form of the answer needs to be changed from a personal reply to an independent blog-post in general; certain points need to be put in a slightly better context; and, as usual, some words need some qualifications or need to be changed; etc. Also check out on the “Applying philosophy…” blog my subsequent elaborations: [^] and [^].

Also, to keep the perspective/context (which often is lost days, weeks, months or, more understandably, years later, and which often is deliberately dropped as a part of the “follow up”), make sure to also check out the recent flurry of media articles/opinion pieces (some of which appeared just days after the above-referred discussion in the blogosphere), e.g.: Chetan Bhagat and Swapan Dasgupta’s pieces in the last Sunday’s Times of India, Tavleen Singh’s piece in the last Sunday’s Indian Express, and most recently, the blog-post by Pritish Nandy at Times of India.

[Links to all to be added.]

Anyway, here is the answer I had written on the fly:

* * *

He is not a statesman, that’s for sure.

We have had mixed economy for such a long time that it would be next to impossible for any one of his or younger generation to rise to that level. The cultural trends have been mostly taking a downturn for such a long time that, these days, all politicians are all driven by the compulsions of democracy—the actual, *systemic*, compulsions imposed by the rule of the mob, within a constitutional framework that contains too many contradictions and so succeeds in giving only a semblance of cohesion or integration to the polity. For instance, the constitution prohibits changing parties, thereby inducing the herd effect to a greater extent. Gone are the days of being true to “conscience.” In fact, conscience is a word which one would run into at least once a week some three decades ago, but doesn’t find mentioned anywhere for months together, these days.

Still, about the cultural downturns, I said “mostly.” That’s observation-based, not an expression of a general pessimism.

The only noticeable cultural *up*swings have been those in the wake of the *political* liberalization in the early 90s (which itself was driven by the *economic* compulsions and the better, liberalizing, terms set by the somewhat better, i.e. the Western, elements in the World Bank, when we had gone bankrupt due to our socialistic political pursuits). Though liberalization was a political process, in reducing shackles and exposing India to the (whatever remaining) better elements in the West, it also allowed betterment in *culture*.

However, these accompanying *cultural* upswings have been countered by the other cultural *down*swings, in particular, those of the religious kind.

BTW, I don’t think we have had a *cultural* downswing of the communist/socialist kind since the 1970s. All the recent downswings in India have been of the religious kind. Sonia Gandhi’s NAC-inspired socialistic programs, or, to a lesser extent, Vajpayee’s populist programs, have been downswings on the economic side, not cultural. For that matter, even when the left was a part of the power at the Center in UPA1, they were completely ineffective in promoting the leftist trend in the *culture*. Bollywood continued with the pelvic thrusts, and even artsy “socially conscious” cinema chose themes like Peepli Live, Shwaas and Deool, rather than a glorification of egalitarianism, of redistributing poverty.

So, the main thing to worry in today’s India, as far as *cultural* degradation is concerned, is: religion, not socialism. Notice the lack of any enthusiastic coverage in the urban, well-educated, middle classes about the movie: Deool. Its theme contains too many undercurrents uncomfortable to the religious mystics of the modern Indian variety.

Incidentally, despite India being a mystic country for such a long time, the execution model they (the religionists) have tried to follow in recent times is not indigeneous in origin; it’s a recent import from America. The recent Indian model is based on the upswing of religion in America, which itself is a rather recent phenomenon (gaining ground after 1970s, and consolidating during the Reagen years).

Thus, Jansangh, for instance, would never have put up a rippling-muscles, six-pack abs kind of a portrayal of Shri Ram on those wide-view flex boards in the cities; it would take the BJP to do that. The traditional Indian portrayal, in fine arts, sculputre and literature, of this God, even if he was a “kshatriya”-born, is that of a middle-aged deity with a somewhat roundish body and carrying a vague, almost nurturing kind of a smile, with the deity situated in a rich, opulent, but peaceful settings, together with family—not that of an angry, young warrior, taking aim with a tautly stretched bow-and-arrow, with his clothes flying in the strong winds as he stands alone on a treeless strech of brownish land, with anger uncontrollably shooting out of eyes. (With all that evident anger, it would be difficult to hold aim to the target, one wonders.) The traditional Indian portrayal of this deity—qua deity—has been different, the history of there actually having been a major war notwithstanding.

The elder Indian even today sometimes does an involuntary double-take at the spectacle of “teertha” (holy water) being sprayed onto those wildly dancing, hysteric masses from a high platform as in the rock concerts, using water-pumps and hose-pipes to spray the “teertha”. To the earlier generation of the religious Indian, “teertha” is always taken in a small quantity using the right hand. A small bamboo “pichkaari” is acceptable at the time of Holi, but it’s not a religious event. Using a *hose-pipe* and a *pump*, for *spraying* “teerth” is too much.

Before these trends spread elsewhere in India, they had begun in those massive religious gatherings in Gujarat, during the times of Modi’s rise to, and assumption of, the political power.

One reason the elderly Indian winces at such sights is: an Indian, true to his color, would in principle be averse to any grand-scale show on the material side. Especially so, when it comes to the matters related to religion. The Indian tendency, particular in the spiritual matters, is to turn the gaze inwards, not outwards. The Indian is not averse to the bodily power; but in his view, either the bodily power is to be subjugated to the spiritual wisdom, which is all outwordly, or the entire matter is superfluous to him simply because it pertains to this world. There is a reason why the “gopur”s of our temples may be grand on both artistic and spatial scales, but the “garbha-griha” is spatially so small as to hardly admit only a few people at a time. When it comes to temples, the idea of a vast space or a large auditorium accomodating a large gathering, with a high pulpit for the priest, is specific to the Abrahamic religions, not to the Indian ones. Clearly, “event management” of *this* kind is a recent import. (We have always had massive religious gatherings, e.g. Kumbh Mela or Wari, but these have been more noticeable for their messyness, randomness, than for masses being coralled together and aroused to a common passion by an organized priesthood. The Indian religious philosophy is far too outworldly to ever care for any organization or purpose in this world, especially that on a large scale. Our temples may have large spaces surrounding the main building (“aawaar”), but these spaces noticeably lack the pulpits to address the assemby—in fact, there never is an assembly, only a random and overcrowded collection of people.)

We have only recently imported the more effective, large-scale, techniques of management of mobs on the basis of religion as a uniting force.

Modi’s management style seems to reflect his times; it seems to be a mix of an upbringing in the traditional organization mold of the old RSS (itself based on an awkward mixture of the European fascists of the early 20th century for the most part and some Scouts-like activities thrown in for good measure), *and* these modern techniques of religion-based political management imported from America.

In short, there have been cultural betterment in certain areas. For example, today, we can openly advocate capitalism in India, without any fear of ridicule, which was not possible as late as when I was in my 20s, i.e. in 1980s.

However, overall, the net cultural change has been to go on to the down side.

Since, as you observed, culture (in the broad sense of the term) does drive politics, the culture of politics also has been going down. (I never thought it stinks to the extent you and many others do.) It’s in the recent atmosphere that it’s difficult to produce statesmen. Try to think of a successor to Jamshedji Tata, in today’s world. Or even to JRD, for that matter. Politics is hardly different. You don’t expect a Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan or even a Shankar Dayal Sharma, in today’s world; the alternative to Pratibha Patil was Bhairo Singh Shekhawat. Even if IMO politics does not stink to the extent you seem to think it does, it is very obvious that we can no longer expect statesmen to rise in today’s India.

So, the smart spin of Modi’s internationally outsourced image consultants aside, he simply can’t be a statesman. The very suggestion is ludicrous, and a direct product of his spin-doctors. (He is not alone in employing/benefitting from spin-doctors; his anticipated 2014 opponent, Rahul Gandhi, supplies an easy example.)

Is Modi a visionary? Ok. Can you use that word to describe a fascist? To clarify this issue, let’s take a more extreme example of a fascist: Can you use that word for Mussolini? If yes, then, sure, Modi is a visionary. He has the “vision” of unleashing the Hindu religious kind of irrationality, on India (and if possible, elsewhere, too), and to preside over the accompanying political power in an executive capacity. That’s his “vision.” (He might succeed in “achieving” it—simply because Rahul Gandhi is what he is.)

Is Modi a demogogue? In view of his political success in Gujarat, he must be. But then, of course, there are so many demogogues, even within his own party. Rajnath Singh, for instance. An array of them could be witnessed during the recent FDI issue. That hardly makes him special.

Is he a master orator? I don’t think so. I haven’t seen the video you refer to, but from whatever his earlier speeches I have seen, they seem to indicate skills lesser than those of a master orator. A master orator is different. Balasaheb Thakarey? Yes. Narendra Modi? Not really. Of course, he does have that ability to deliver effective speeches, often with a lot of punches. But then all politicians routinely do that. When you say a master orator, the person has to go beyond that level. I would certainly put Lalu Prasad Yadav ahead of Narendra Modi in that department. This is not humour; I mean it. When it comes to superior oratorial skills, just the way Vajpayee is (rather was) a master orator, so is Yadav.

Rather than pieces of superior oratory, Modi’s speeches seem to be like *events* that are quietly and masterfully coordinated in the background. The actual speech seems like just the tip of the icebert. The silent coordination is palpable. Right from creating the atmosphere for an upcoming speech, including coordination in the media (not just locally, not just in the neighbourhood or with the people in the city, but specifically within media), to the necessary followup capitalization on what(ever) he said.

The only way to explain the extraordinary effectiveness of this not-so-extraordinary personality is to make reference to the quiet work done for him by those “swayamsevaks.” Take away the aura they impart him, and then, judging him for himself, Modi comes across a far more ordinary personality—not just in speeches but also in every respect. There are times when I wonder if he could be described as a pigmy. He is said to divide all people into two camps, and evoke extreme passions of either admiration or loathing in them. The description is accurate except for the starting word: you have to replace “he” the person by “he” the image—nay, the rather seamless sort of an enormous collage—built up by all those collectivist “swayamsevaks.”

As to demoguery, I think more than being just a demogogue, he is a shrewd “organization man,” capable of slowly but surely advancing over his competition, especially internally. Here, I think a definite credit is certainly due to him. Not just in a value-neutral sense. I think he has put in very honest and very hard efforts in rising through his organization. To a certain extent, esp. for politicians, personal honesty *is* compatible with a contradictory or irrational political agenda.

He is not a typical BJP leader. Nope. He is more pure-minded on their agenda, more hard-working on that agenda, than any others from his party. Compare him with your ordinary, compromising sort of a guy like, say, Ram Naik, Nitin Gadkari, or even Rajnath Singh. When it comes to the BJP agenda, Modi would be more ruthless compared to any other BJP leader. Not because he lacks emotions, or controls them better, or manages to suppress them. Not even because he wants to be ruthless with people—in fact, quite the opposite is very likely, from whatever I can gather from his coverage on TV in general (never saw him in person at a close distance). It is easily possible that he is responsive and sensitive.

Still, he will end up being more ruthless simply because he would be morally more unshakeably convinced about the moral worth of the BJP agenda.

I think that it is possible to imagine Modi’s developing inner doubts privately, when it comes to his assessments of his own abilities, his own capacity to lead and to rule. He certainly does seem to be both sensitive and intelligent enough to be able to develop such doubts, at least some times. But what he seems entirely incapable of doing is: ever challenging the moral worth (to him: the moral *superiority*, nay, *infallibility*) of the *moral* agenda of his organization, of his party. It’s this greater—moral—conviction which would make him more ruthless. And it is this emphasis on the moral agenda rather than a political agenda which permits him enough flexibility to be a chamelion on many political issues or to even strike some compromises—the reason why so many Muslims do in fact support him. They too are religious, like him, but too short range, unlike him.

It’s Modi’s moral convictions that set him apart from the others in his party. It’s not any particularly superior personal set of qualities, except for being a better organization-man among them. Honest hard work, a lot of them do. Shrewd, a lot of them are. May be, he is slightly more shrewd, that’s all—though I honestly doubt that. From all that you can gather about him, he is very shrewd, but he could even be more sincere than shrewd. So, the real difference setting him apart from his colleagues is his willingness to go all the way down along the path of their shared morality. And the real reason why he can make that contradictory morality work, is: using his superior skills as the organization-man. The burden of the contradictions is calculated to fall on those outside the organization, the enemy camp (whoever they may be), and, since a contradiction nevertheless has a way to also run in the opposite direction, i.e. internally, the burden then has to fall on to those who have lesser skills to make the organization work for them. (One reason for this last also is the lesser strength of the same morals. There does seem to be a feedback loop here.) And so, when it comes to his individual assessment, the actual reason can only be ascribed to the depth to which he carries his (wrong) moral convictions.

Finally, coming to his supporters. In wondering about what *Modi*’s supporters want, if you are at all going to set up an *alternative,* esp. an alternative between Hindutva and “development” (whatever that means)—or, for that matter, between Hindutva and anything else—then, I would say, you are politically so naive, so very naive, that I have a suggestion for you: consider abstaining from voting regardless of where you are (i.e. even in places/elections where the BJP is weak/absent), for, when it comes to politics, you obviously cannot be trusted to choose wisely. :-) [This last was just a joke, BTW.]

Too long, in fact longer than usual. Hope you tolerate. (It was just a writing on the fly.) Guess one of these days I should write a slightly better organized piece on Modi, at my own blog. I wanted to do one well before the heat of the campaign begins, and right now might as well be a good time to do that. So, unlike my comments on spirituality and all, this time round, this comment might actually move very quickly to my blog. Though, guess I will let it begin its course here.



Judging the Judgments Being Passed on the Ayodhyaa Judgment

0. My Tributes:

Let me begin by paying my tribute to one of India’s most respected politicians who also could become a prime minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri-ji, and also to the Founder of our Nation, Mahatma Gandhi-ji, on the occasion of their shared birth anniversary.

More than many of us care to realize, and unlike the fashions of the present day to deny either of them their due credit (one of the fashions originating with the BJP and its earlier “avatar”s, and the other, with the Indira Congress), we still owe a lot to these two men, and to others like them.

1. Prelude:

The past two-three days have been abuzz with heavy discussions, debates, and all. The obvious reference is to the High Court verdict on the Ayodhyaa case. I have tried to go through as many newspaper and blogosphere analyses as possible.  I also watched with great interest (and appreciation) Barkha Dutt’s program on NDTV on the evening of the verdict. [There seemed to be a game of musical chairs being played behind the scenes, during the commercial breaks, what with a new face popping up on a chair every now and then, and people mysteriously disappearing. There also was a revelation that Ms. Dutt was being prompted via her earphones.]

Following the Hon’ble Court, I, too, shall try to “traverse the minefield.” However, my objective shall be limited to reviewing the reviewers, that’s all. To me, all of the following: the issue itself, the court proceedings about it, and the verdict document now produced, actually are boring to varying degrees. However, the discussion thereof by the intellectuals, assuredly, is not.

2. Comments on Participants in Barkha Dutt’s Show on Sept 30.

First, a few comments on the above-mentioned program by Barkha Dutt on NDTV.

2.1 The following participants are being the grade “A”: Ramachandra Guha, and Javed Akhtar.

It was hard to settle on who is the topper among the two.

Akhtar was outstandingly brilliant in consistently pointing out the obvious practical point (which none else on the show thought of) that the only case in which we can move forward is if the land is split up.

Guha, too, was outstandingly brilliant in suggesting that the matter go to the Supreme Court, and here is the brilliant part, that the Supreme Court take 5, 10, or 20 years before pronouncing its judgment, so that we have the time in the meanwhile to progress further and reach a more mature disposition towards the issue, as projected from the progress that we seem to have made between 1992 and today.

The tie was broken using the consideration that the latter spoke of the future. Accordingly, Dr. Guha is being declared the topper.

2.2 The following participants failed, and thus are being given the grade “F”:

(i) The guy representing the Waqf board on that show (sorry, didn’t catch his name right, but seems like he is an MP)—the guy with beard and without moustache, the one who spoke in terms of fighting this “war” further till the end. He did not quite use the word… err… “jihaad,” but his emotions obviously betrayed, at least on that day, that he couldn’t have meant anything else in principle. We offer no rationale as to why we give him the “F” grade.

(ii) Ravi Shankar Prasad. This normally sedate and sober guy was spewing fire through his nostrils, not observing the civic decencies of listening to the opponents, opening up the “grand” mandir line, and even refusing to offer comments on the simplest of the foil issues, but instead waving his finger at the hostess of the show, accusing her of a bias, and then leaving the show in an arrogant huff. … I have seen the better of him. But even after factoring in Shekhar Gupta’s helpful addition that on that day he had won a hard-fought case, I think there was more to it. The gentleman had more hard-Hindutva ideas than his public position would allow him to show. On all these counts, he is being made to sit together with the guy (i), outside of our class.

(iii) Joining them is one Mr. Sarma from Hyderabad, for deliberate obfuscation of many sub-issues.

(iv) There could be others. …

2.3 The following participants are being given a “C” (on a four-point scale):
(i) The Jamia Milia Islamia VC, Prof. Baig
(ii) The former Chief Justice of India (was it Mr. Sachar?)
(iii) Several others

2.4 A Note: Professional print-media men (like Shekhar Gupta) participating in the show are excluded. They are being (or shall be) judged for their writings, see the next point.

Also, the grades for the categories are given separately. … Aristotle (in my words): “We cannot expect the same precision of thought in an orator’s speech as we would, in a geometer’s proof.”

3. Print-Media Articles:

3.1 As of this writing (the version revised on Oct. 4 as on the original version of Oct. 2), none has been found suitable for the “A” grade.

3.2 Dileep Padgaonkar is being given the grade “B” for his article here [^] .

This article otherwise is so remarkably perceptive, and so well reasoned and written, that it would obviously be worthy of an “A.” Yet, Padgaonkar managed to miss it by including pieces like the following:

“…But by their very nature, faith and belief have no factual basis. They are above reason…” [emphasis added]; and

“…[The judges] looked upon Lord Ram… as a historical character….” [emphasis added]

Well done, Dr. Padgaonkar, but, better premises, next time!

3.3. Siddharth Varadarajan is being given a “C” for this piece [^]:

Like Padgonkar, Varadarajan too observes that faith has unmistakably come to have some sway over jurisprudence. This observation, by itself, should have earned him at least a “B” if not an “A.” However, he then proceeded to dilute it with Leftist undercurrents (to an extent which would not be typical of him in the early parts of this decade).

Take care, Mr. Varadarajan. Your recent award (for journalism) was well-deserved. But you still need to watch over those Leftist leanings (perhaps) surreptitiously creeping in. But no, you still are not a failure.

3.4 Dr. Swapan Dasgupta, otherwise one of my most favorite writers, is now being given the grade “F”—i.e. being failed—for this piece of his [^].

The reasons for failing him are noted in a comment that I made at Dasgupta’s blog; see immediately below the article (URL given above).

As I said in my comment, there are many fine points that Dasgupta makes. Indeed, I shall go one step ahead, and say that Dasgupta not only brings together so many disparate points so well together, he also imparts a certain intellectual “texture” to that weaving.

And yet, I fail him. The reason is, principles. Including, consistency.

4. A Bit about What Secular Actually Means—And Has Come to Mean, in India

It is true that package-dealing of the term “secular” began not with Dasguptas, but most prominently from the side of the Congress, and even more prominently, from that of the Indira Congress.

It was Congress which contorted, completely out-of-shape, the actual meaning of the term “secular,” by forwarding “sarva dharma sama-bhaav” as the proper meaning of the term….

… Permit me to ask in Ayn Rand’s manner: What about the atheists? What attitude (i.e. “bhaav”) is to be kept towards them? Blank out. What about those who believe in spirituality but no organized religion? Blank out.

But the Congress’ sin didn’t stop there. They made that poison even more potent by mixing it with that other favorite of theirs, namely, statism. This mixing created a synergy of sorts between two evils.

Till date we are suffering from the consequences.

According to this mixture, the State, i.e. the government should confiscate citizens’ money via taxes, and use it in grand gestures of grants to various religions, the term “secular” only serving to remind the bureaucrat or the politician in question that every religious pressure group is equally entitled to those government handouts, in an egalitarian manner.

I have been maintaining that the BJP is just equally guilty of statism.  They, too, unquestioningly accept the Congress’ mangling of what the term “secular” means.

The BJP, too, does not bother about clarifying what the Enlightenment meaning of the term “secular” is. And, regardless of its countless middle-class (mostly Brahmin etc.) supporters abroad, esp. those on the either coasts of the USA (esp. the SF Bay Area), the BJP still does not feel compelled to merely acknowledge at a “bauddhik” level, the kind of rational radiance that the Enlightenment ideas had led to—e.g., the American Founding Fathers’ creation of their nation. (of which today’s USA de facto is a very pale, even mangled, version).

Given their statist premises and those grand ambitions of what effectively can only be a theological dictatorship (i.e., fascism, in a sense), the BJP would have always found the package-deal initiated by the Congress to be extremely useful. They did.

“Aha,” they cry out, “that is what secularism means. So, let’s replace such ideas with the Hindutva.”

It did reverberate with the populace, and led, first, to Ayodhya in 1992, and then, to New Delhi from 1998 to 2004.

It can lead to worse things.

If that is to be prevented, the first necessary step is to identify the kind of intellectual errors, even crimes, which have been committed. And then, to identify the fundamental nature of those errors. It is necessary to show that both the Congress’ and BJP’s (or, if you wish, the Muslims’ and the Hindus’) usages are nothing but two variants of the same error.

(One does not use the phrase “two sides of the same coin” in such a context; not the word “sides” but the word “coin” is too noble a term to use in the context of errors or deliberate evil.)

And, the proper meaning of the term is to be consistently pointed out and upheld, together with what other ideas it requires and entails.

It is the job specifically of intellectuals to do so.

If a government clerk, or a grocery-shop owner, is lax with using the term “secular,” it might be understandable, even excusable. No such excuse is possible with intellectuals. Just the way people speak out against corruption in a government office, or adulteration in a grocery shop, similarly, they ought to speak out against intellectual package-deals as in this case.

When a petty BJP party man, or a spokesman like Mr. Jawadekar, or some arbit guy addressing, say a Gujarathi or Kannada or Goan cultural gathering on “Aasthaa” channel or so, continues the abuse of the term “secular” in that same sense in which it began to be abused by the Gandhi Topi-wearing Congress-wallahs, then the matter certainly is of concern—even if, probably, already beyond rectification.

But when an intellectual commits the same error (i.e. an intellectual sin or crime), then, given the metaphysical nature of man—i.e. the importance of ideas in the life and well-being of a man, a society, or a nation—the error acquires a certain unique significance.

That is why I give Dr. Dasgupta an “F.”

Let me add one more point before closing. When an intellectual commits an error, it does not matter whether the man in question is going to change himself for the better by correcting his errors or not. This bit about his individual character, in reality, does not really matter—not to the rational interests of other men at large. [That is another way of understanding how the “ad hominem” tactics are never necessary.]

What instead really matters is whether that error is explictly identified or not, and whether a better alternative is upheld or not.

That matters.

So long as people have a better vision of what can be done, whether there are erring intellectuals, and whether a given erring individual continues to commit the same error not, does not matter.

I strongly recommend to you reading about the American Founding Fathers and those philosophic ideas from the Enlightenment era which shaped their convictions (including any minor inconsistencies in those), and, why, even the earlier British struggles (such as the Common Law in Renaissance, and, even earlier, the Magna Carta, etc.). If you wish to have a specific recommendation, see Peikoff’s “The Ominous Parallels,” and references cited therein.

And, I urge you to consistently uphold the secular ideals in that sense of the term in which it was understood by the thinkers of the Enlightenment era—and acted upon by the best within the Western culture.

Yes, the same ideal is good enough for us in India, too! Stronger: That is what is most urgently required if calamities like the Ayodhya issue are to be avoided in future.

* * * * *  * * * * *   * * * * *
A Song I Like
(English) “These are a few of my favorite things…”
Lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II
Music: Richard Rodgers
Singer: ? [Julie Andrews? Mary Martin?]

[First written and posted: Oct. 2, 2010. Minor editing and streamlining: Oct. 4, 2010.]


Whither Capitalism…

Note, the first word in the title of this post is not “whether;” it is: “whither.”

While writing and updating my last post, many memories began surfacing. This post, again, is based on a particular, in a way trivial incident which occurred during my initial years with Objectivism. But there is a reason to share that incident because it shows a few things relevant to the debates concerning introducing capitalism in India today.

The time was 1984 or thereabouts. My friends from COEP and me had graduated from COEP (1983), and had begun “tasting” work-life and organizations (i.e. companies). Criticism of government, esp. over taxes, was a norm in the corporate life even back then, and generally, any young trainee engineer could easily come to appreciate that there was something to be said about economic freedom, even though no corporate honcho or intellectual would directly mention Capitalism or Ayn Rand as such.

The most prominent and honorable exception to this rule came from JRD, the then Tata Group chairman, who later on was most justifiably honored with a “Bharat-Ratna,” India’s highest civic award. Way back (I suppose perhaps as back as in the 1960s), JRD had financed production and distribution of pamphlets to managers (working anywhere, both in and out of Tatas), expressly meant for defending capitalism. These pamphlets did mention all of the three words: “Laissez-Faire,” “Capitalism,” and “Ayn Rand,” I have been told. (I myself never saw one of these pamphlets, but was told by very reliable people, senior managers teaching at management institutes or so.) Another similar exception was Rahul Bajaj. I don’t think he went so far as mentioning Ayn Rand herself. But he was a ruthless critic of the license-quota raj, of bureaucracy, and of mixed economy. Both the facts: his being a Bajaj, and his being a Harvard business school graduate, meant a lot in those days. He used the platforms and fora such as those provided by the Pune-based Mahratta Chamber of Commerce and Industries, very effectively. (Agriculture still was not included in the title back then; it still was only MCCI in those days.)

So, many freshly working engineers, who otherwise had never bothered with economic ideas, with isms, as engineering college students, had sort of discovered during their first few years in jobs that it was OK, perhaps even respectable, to discuss the “pros and cons” of different economic systems in a way that can be pro-business, so to speak.

Having nothing to do in life in the evenings (back then, engineers with even five years of experience could not get or afford scooters; the scene had just begun changing with the entry of the new Japanese collaboration bikes such as the Ind-Suzuki and the Yamaha RX 100), we, then fresh engineers, would often eat each others’ brains out in the evenings. A few had decided to give MPSC/UPSC a try, and therefore, were especially in the “knowledge” and “discussions” mode. Many had begun pursuing part-time MBAs, and therefore, were reading up economics in a serious way for the first time in life anyway. Others had ambitions of going to IIMs. Many of us shared apartments, in a “hostel” sort of life-style. Naturally, discussions were aplenty.

In one of such evenings, this same guy from the Jamnalal Bajaj Institute who I mentioned in my last post (the COEP + Bajaj graduate through whom we had come to know of Objectivism), was visiting Pune. We were eager to ask and discuss with him, about many things, both Objectivism and business and life in Mumbai in general—the sort of things young COEP juniors might ask one of their seniors. He had MBA in finance, and would talk in awesome terms about “strategy.” After a while, the discussion naturally turned to economics.

Now, since many of these other guys had not shown any interest in Objectivism earlier, they had no idea as to what precisely capitalism would mean, require, and imply. So, some time in that discussion went in that direction. Those few (3 or 4, myself included) who had read Objectivism did come from a moral angle. That satisfied the basic curiosity of almost every one. And yet, the UPSC types were still unsatisfied. This is all OK in theory, they thought, and perhaps would also hold out in practice if some of us were insisting it would, they said, but neverthless, they continued in an anxious way: “If this issue of Capitalism vs. Socialism comes up, what the hell do I tell the UPSC interview committee—i.e. if I at all make it to the interviews stage?” That was their basic question. In other words, it was OK if Capitalism is not politically correct (the term was unknown back then). But is it at least within the bounds enough to be used at the XPSC group discussions and interviews?

Confronted with this question, almost every one (but certainly not me) tried to think of a smart way that would combine both an enlightened advocacy of Capitalism and a killer impression on the UPSC interview committee. None could succeed. Few realized that a success in matters such as these simply isn’t possible. Yet, the atmosphere seemed to be settling towards a pro-Capitalism position. Plus, it was not yet time for the evening mess, and so the discussions could certainly continue.

At this point, I introduced a question that had bugged me a lot for sometime back then. Actually, I would have been more happy to ask it to some professor from a management institute (or the Gokhale Institute of Economics and Politics). But having a senior who had read Objectivism was good enough for me. So, I blurted out something like the following (which is a streamlined description of a lot of discussion by way of clarifying the question itself):

If Capitalism is to be introduced in India, then for a country as large, complex, and ancient as ours (even if as a nation we were young), its obvious that it can’t be done in one day.

Our lawmakers and the rest of politicians, and our bureaucrats, would obviously be against it. (Back then, I said so more out of the then lawmakers’ ideological convictions/inclinations rather than out of a consideration of their concern for protecting their turf/power-base/corruption-base, though both were considered and introduced by me in the subsequent discussion.)

Now, the world history shows that all deep systematic changes at the scale of a nation involve a lot of readjustments in the least, even pains many times. (Revolutions also happen.) A change in system involves pains. Since Capitalism is good, broadly speaking, I said, only the bad can experience the pain, the good won’t. Yet, the pain will be there. The entrenched interests of politicians, bureaucrats, and the life-sucker’s “rings” around them would be certain to experience it—and fight against the change using whatever means. (This observation had made a lot of serious impact without having to labor the point; the Emergency still was less than a decade in the past.)

If so, given the entirety of your knowledge of economics, of India, and of the current state of mixed-ness of India’s mixed economics, what do you think, I asked, would be the specific areas, or sectors, or industries that can be the best candidates for freeing up the economy, so that the requisite slow change towards Capitalism can occur with the least pain—so that, I added, we don’t lose out on whatever popular support for Capitalism that we can have. Implicit in the change is that the dishonest/corrupt people who lose their power would start barking, defaming Capitalism in the process. The question is: which areas etc. of the economic/political life of India offer us the best path for opening them up to free markets—and what could be the overall sequence or direction, in specific industries/economic sector terms, in which we could pursue such a program.

Well, none had an answer, not even a vaguest possible scheme by way of an answer, back then in 1984. None had even a speculation back then. The general agreement was that this was too complex a question. The senior friend then added that to the best of his knowledge, even Ayn Rand had not addressed this question, possibly because it was too complex even for her. I was not convinced. An approximate answer or a range of options could be good enough, I said. The point is, why not do this kind of thinking?

It was almost as if for most thinkers back then, even the advocacy for the moral nature of Capitalism itself had seemed to involve an uphill battle.

The reason I mention this question today is that even 26 years after that incidence, almost 20+ years after the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of the Soviet Russia, and some 18+ years since “privatization,” “globalization,” etc. began in India, people still are not able to feel free enough to think of beginning addressing this particular question.

Yes, there are advocates of “Capitalism” today, in India, and they have been vocal for some time now. During the BJP regime, they were busy asking why they can’t run a beer bar at the basement of their house, without mentioning in entirety the rational basis for Capitalism—and of course, without mentioning Ayn Rand. And, the Congress party was attacking the BJP for picking up for privatization only those government-run companies that were actually profitable, and selling them for a price far inferior to what their true worth would be, to foreign investors. (Hints of the “cut” made in selling these companies also were in circulation.)

Having made such charges back then, after coming to the political power, the Congress has completely forgotten about this entire privatization program. This is not a neutral position as might be supposed—it does help statism get entrenched in the system out of sheer intellectual inertia. People do silently draw some implicit conclusion to the effect, which, if wordified, would run something like this: “the government interference in economy has always been a ‘done’ thing in our country; it’s the normal state; may be it should be increased.” Since economics, like all areas of human endeavor and condition, is a dynamic phenomenon, not static, with finite limits (including the finitude of life-span), a seeming “neutral,” in matters like these, is not at all a neutral; it *is* a bias for statism, for coercive government controls.

And then, of course, apart from thus subtly stopping the privatization program in its tracks, the Indira Congress has since then also gone ahead with a whole array of welfare programs, thereby returning to such glorious pre-1991 times as under “Rajiv-ji” and “Indira-ji.” (If you don’t believe me, continue reading, for example, Shekhar Gupta. Or, Prabhu Chawla.)

Thus, all in all, the position is not even neutral; it is: increasing statism.

In Indian politics, as in the American one, political Opposition has always been avoiding any principles-based policy. No not that, they have been avoiding even a talk that is in any consistent way refers to principles. They don’t see their role of democratic political opposition, in terms of principles at all! All that they are interested in is blowing up this corruption scandal vs. that scandal. …

Ok. That is a political necessity, I can understand. You have to show the man on the street something dramatic every few months, else you lose even the basic touch with him—and together with that, your own political future. So, sure, corruptions and scandals have to break with some regularity. … There is a deeper malaise behind it. In a mixed economy, the media is always influenced by the government—i.e. by the political party that happens to be in power. So, a rational, even-handed media coverage is of course a first casualty. Therefore, just to stay in place, the opposition has to keep throwing up in the citizen’s mind one scandal after another. Corruption-related stories and scandals have their place.

The crucial question therefore becomes: Does the spectrum of opposition’s political activity *end* with these scandals? Or does it *begin* there? Do they then also go and offer some robust policy program that is based on rational principles—in this case, a morally based defense of capitalism?

If the answer to the above question were to be yes, then the opposition (today, the BJP; a sometimes, the Congress) would have not only released a blueprint of what they want to privatize first, but they would also have shown how and why. Alternatives in privatizing can exist. The political parties are the ones who are supposed to do their home-work in this regard and take a stand—not just vague talk, but a definite stand in terms of concrete courses of action.

Neither the BJP nor the Congress, in their roles as Opposition, have ever even dreamt of doing such a thing.

To the Congress, repeating catch-phrases like “aam aadmi,” “secular” etc. is enough—even if in de facto pursuing pragmatism, they have been ending up looking even worse than the Left. If you think this is far-fetched, then, considering the actual evidence of their actual government spending programs, and ambitions for the same, ask yourself: who is better (or worse): a Somnath Chatterjee or a Sonia/a Rahul/an XYZ from the Indira Congress? You may be hard-pressed for the answer.

As to the BJP, they are *not* pragmatic. Their long-term program seems to be clear: First, uplift India into the Hindu counterpart of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Then (or simultaneously), try to dissolve both Pakistan and Bangladesh under a single pan-Indian sub-continent Hindu dictatorship, based on the pre-Renaissance, pre-enlightenment variety laws given by the like of, say, Manu, Chanakya, etc.

Neither is concerned with Capitalism—certainly not the Indira Congress, but not even the BJP (no matter what Atany Dey’s, and his blog-commenters’ convictions).

And it is for this reason that people—not just ordinary people but even the most “right” among our intellectuals—really are far away from even considering a question like the above, viz., what would be the best path to Capitalism in today’s India, what sectors/areas/industries should be freed up first—and the reasons thereof. Questions like these are so remote to them that they don’t even have the reality of a fiction to them. Capitalism is actually reduced, by them, only to a convenient catch-phrase, a phrase that means nothing in particular except perhaps a “feelgood” glow in the heart, a term that may be abused any which way. That’s how Capitalism remains an unknown ideal even to those who say they are pro-Capitalism.

It’s a pity that the best of our public voices still discuss “Whether Capitalism,” not “Whither Capitalism.” [With my limited knowledge of English, I think, the word “whither” can be used here. If not, please let me know.] The word “whither” here is to be taken in the sense: which areas do we choose to begin freeing up such that greatest positive impact is made towards the popular support for Capitalism, and least political resistance is encountered.

Any ideas or suggestions on this topic would be welcome—whether as comments/replies to this blog, or as posts at your blogs, or as independent essays or articles in the media. If you know a better word than “whither,” please do let me know. Thanks in advance for both.

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

A Song  I Like:
(Hindi) “main jahaa chalaa jaaoon, bahaar chali aaye…”
Singer: Kishore Kumar
Music: Laxmikant-Pyarelal
Lyrics: Anand Bakshi

[I may revise/streamline this post a bit later on.]

Trivia Like the M. F. Hussain Controversy and the Women’s Reservation Bill

0. With this post, I once again resume blogging…

First, I need to quickly get a few things out of my system before I am ready to write on some of the things I have wanted to write about. … So, here we go with the more trivial (but far more discussed) matters first…

(1.) About the M. F. Hussain Controversy…

There was a spike of discussions concerning this particular controversy about one/two weeks ago. So many interesting angles got thrown up that it would be impossible to even summarize them. I felt like jumping in, but instead, just kept on reading on the ‘net and otherwise, to get the “lay of the land” before I wrote. In a way, this turned out to be a good decision.

After all, I did find a very highly quotable position post which explains most of what I had wanted to say anyway. By that, I mean the post on the topic by Dr. Atanu Dey, here [^]. Please do read it. Highly recommended.

Not that I agree with every nuance of every point he states. Speaking in overall terms about his blogging about other matters too, I suspect that there might be a difference among us in that I might look at something from a moral/judgmental viewpoint whereas he wouldn’t, necessarily. That hardly matters here, though…

Here, I find his ability to think in principles, and the straightforward way in which he puts his thoughts, marvelous! And I completely agree with all the essential points of this post of his.

Just a couple of points I shall add to what Dey has already said.

(1.a) Dey says that “[he is] not much of a paintings person, anyway.” But I am, to a certain extent. And used to be one to a major extent about two-three decades ago. So, I can add a bit about this matter.

The question I very briefly address here is: how great is Hussain, as a painter (i.e. artist)?

Even a casual glance at his paintings would tell you that he has an extraordinary mastery over the line. He is an abstract painter—which, to my mind, generally speaking, doesn’t qualify as art to begin with. This applies as much to Hussain as also to Souza, or Gaitonde, or Anjali Menon, or even Sujata Bajaj, or anyone else of their kind—which means, about 99% of today’s painters: they, too, are not artists.

But keeping this aside for a moment, the next question is: Doesn’t he show at least some elements of great art in his work?

Here, I think, as a craftsman, his defining skill is not at all light and perspective, certainly not color, nor even subject, but it’s: his line. His painting unmistakably show that had he chosen higher goals, he would have made for a recognizably great artist—and, despite spending 95 years of his life, he still has not managed to even become an artist let alone a great one.

But why do I say it’s the line which really defines his craftsmanship? Just look at the lines that define the contours of his horses, and the women he paints. His line is capable of bringing to life the sheer life power, the very unruly dynamic, of a horse. Just one apparently careless stroke of a brush in the right place while drawing the eye of a horse, and that raw, unruly energy of the horse begins to jump at you. Similarly, consider the fact that despite carrying the crudeness of the abstract technique, his straight lines still perfectly capture the contours of the feminine form, whenever he manages to slip-in to the remnants of the better elements of the technique he must have been taught at the JJ School of Arts.

So, here is a very curious phenomenon. You have a gifted craftsman—at the level of the line. But this same guy, then, refuses to use that gift to paint a picture—i.e. to create a work of art. Instead, he uses his more abstract powers to mangle the elements like the objects making up those lines, the color and the perspective etc, deliberately disorients them all, throws them together to deliberately create incoherence or even un-intelligibility in his work of “art.”

Consider its counterpart in other forms of art, for example, literature, for example, poetry. What Hussain’s approach would yield is not a poem but something like a poem. Of course it would be called a “free verse.” But the matter doesn’t end there—it gets worse. What Hussain would give you would be a collection of in-principle disconnected bunch of lines, some phrases of which being extraordinarily brilliant on counts such as drama, innovation of expression, metaphor, imagination, etc. Mind you, the brilliance would be restricted only to phrases, not even to lines—the mangling would begin right at that level. And, the lines, taken as sequence, would all be disjointed, hinting at something which, in principle, cannot at all be known, not in toto. The hints themselves could at times be grotesque, at other times sly, at other times profane (and this term is to be taken in its objective sense, not necessarily in connection with this religion or that)… You could, if you try, easily locate Hussain’s parallels in modern “poetry” too. The point isn’t that. The point is to convey what Hussain really is like, when taken as a painter. Namely, that he isn’t one.

(It would be an error to compare Hussain’s paintings with the strokes produced by a student studying at a school for the mentally retarded—the first has the ability to do better, the second doesn’t, and the deliberateness of the rebellion against integration is the crucial difference.)

(1.b) Another point that many people seem to have missed is this. I ran across a court judgment that did agree with the opponents of Hussain in all other points. However, it refused to try Hussain on a point of legal technicality. And, that brilliant piece of the legal technicality was supplied by the current Central Government of India minister Kapil Sibal. … The less I say, the better it will be to my health and life…

(1.c) Nevertheless, we must stop and ask ourselves one question. If merely brilliance in respect of an element like the line-work can be enough to qualify a guy to be counted as an artist, even when ample evidence from his art-work as well as his interviews exists that he has deliberately followed a policy of working against proper integration as required by a proper piece of art, then, following the same standards, why not also consider those millions of anonymous Indians whose “work” adorns the walls of all our public urinals to be artists in their own right, too? [And, I deliberately use the word “urinal” rather than “toilet” or “rest room,” because only the former can adequately convey the strength of the stink in question.] Why not decorate also them with those Padma awards?

Any answer, Delhi “intellectuals”? Rich Bombay “businessmen” patrons of Hussain’s “art”?

(2) About the Women’s Reservation Bill

First of all I want you to note that here I am going against many politicians I otherwise respect, first and foremost, Sharad Pawar. Also, many other politicians I fear. … The reader must excuse me here; there would be too many to name them to list them individually. …

The best commentary—and the only reasonable one—that I saw in print or on monitor, came from one Mr. Parsa Venkateshwar Rao, Jr., in a column he wrote for DNA, here [^]. The only other media/blog to highlight it (in my limited browsing) was “Churumuri,” here [^].

… As usual, at least one qualification. What Rao calls “politics of identity,” I would call such things as “politics of narrowness/of insularity/of divisiveness.”

And, here’s the extraordinarily brilliant part of Rao’s comment, expressed so tersely but so well:

…Women’s reservation bill too is supposed to promote gender equality but what it really does is create yet another special interest. And society is turned into a bureau of cubbyholes. And the power of the State is increased yet again. …

Thank you for saying it, Mr. Rao!

To Swamy of Times of India, regarding his today’s column. Nope, Swamy, you don’t get it right. Hmm…

Back to basics. There are three pillars of a nation state: (i) legislative (L for short), (ii) judicial (J for short), (iii) executive (E for short). In India, the mangling of the E branch began right with the original version of the Constitution (C for short)—it’s just for five years, no principled, i.e. unreserved respect/acknowledgment of the individual rights, etc. As such, the J, if pushed to the wall, would have been helpless, in principle. For the aforementioned reason (viz. the absence of an explicit ack. of the Individual Rights), the Constitution always had been sufficiently vague—i.e. weak–that if L grew, it could not only overpower the E but also effectively restrict the J in various indirect ways. Enter the mixed ideals of Nehruvian socialism. L had become powerful. In Indira’s semi-dictatorship, it changed C and systematically weakened L and then also J. With the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of USSR, there seemed to be a reversal of sorts, but it was necessarily doomed because C was weak to begin with anyway so there was poor theory, and, in fact, Indira’s years had weakened the level of the public discourse to such low levels. So much so that on this issue of reservation, all major parties—Congress, BJP, and the communists—they all agree. (Also all the rest of them: they simply fight for greater reservation—not less). Ok.

Against this background what would this Bill do? There are certain implicit grounds for negotiating any kind of agreement in any free society. Due to a better past—and interactions with better countries like the USA and UK—despite the systematic abuse of the above sort and all the weaknesses of the Constitution and legal codes, the common implicit grounds in India actually tend to be better. This is the reason why gays (as much the “chhakke”s as the more hype urban ones) could at all live without having cases slapped against them. This is the reason why in Maharashtra, the ANS-sponsored Bill gets halted. (The reason I oppose it: What standards would permit an ordinary police officer to distinguish between proper private practice of religion and blind faith as prescribed by ANS?) This is the reason why business can at all in fact function even if enough legal codes exist that in theory it would be impossible to run a business without breaking some or the other legal code. That implicit ground is important.

In a country with as huge illiterate, semi-literate, and literate-but-uneducated population as India, a country where to run the elections you have to use symbols—not candidate’s names—it does matter a lot what kind of signals we project to all those people.

When reservations in jobs came into force, it actually did not matter to large parts of population: most of the labor is in agriculture or unorganized sector, and even in organized sector, job reservations applied only to government jobs, not private. It was bad, but it was limited in terms of impact. When the Constitution got mangled almost with each successive amendment (some of which being more deeply mangling than the others), it rather affected the upper echelons of the society—their effects on that implicit negotiating grounds that I alluded to above was at least initially minimal; in any case, their effects would have to slowly trickle and diffuse.

But when you introduce a Reservation Bill of this sort—whether on the caste basis, gender, or any other, it matters not in principle—what you do is that you not only mangle the L branch of the government out of its shape, but, since the common illiterate man, right since the Freedom Movement, has always been an active part of the political process, you also affirm to him that divisive agendas like that are alright so long as ratified by an overwhelming majority, as led by the likes of Sonia Gandhi and Sharad Pawar and Advani and others.

In other words, you affect that implicit understanding of what kind of state one lives in, for that common illiterate man. In essence, you tell him: It’s perfectly “sarkari” to be prejudiced against any innocent man. It is perfectly OK to be prejudiced. It is perfectly OK to be so even at the level of elections for law-makers. It is perfectly OK to follow the blind politics of special interest groups.

The first implications of this kind of a message has already emerged, in the form of the opponents to the Bill. … And, Sharad Pawar, and Sonia Gandhi, and Nitin Gadkari, and Brinda Karat and their lesser colleagues all find a cause to celebrate for. What a tragedy!!

. . . . .

[BTW, if someone from NCP or Indira Congress comes and asks me (which is very unlikely), rather than give them a lecture on principles and all, I am just going to be a bit smart and raise a few points in turn: (i) Why did “Sakal” stop carrying the news of new PhD awards precisely around the time I was awarded one—and why does, through other columns, it does sometimes (even if rarely) does cover the news of other PhDs… Is “Sakal” ashamed of the kind of work I had submitted for my PhD? (ii) Why did I not get that job in COEP—even after my PhD defence? [^]  (iii) Why did the IIT Bombay Conference ICCMS09 reject my paper (citing such flimsy grounds that I had used the grammatical first person while writing the abstract)? Who gave them the encouragement to behave thus anti-intellectually? (iv) Why did CERN reject my paper?. I think this might keep them busy for a while… We could discuss principles and all later on…]

– – – – –

Things I Wanted to Write About

Now that the trivia are out of my system, here is a word about what I have been wanting to write about for quite sometime, and may write in near future (not necessarily in the next post):

On the political side: The magnitude of the black money kept abroad by Indians, Why no Maharashtrian could become a PM thus far.

And, then, of course, Physics: A simple but important example illustrating how, in Physics, it is impossible to get rid of certain basic assumptions delineating the nature of your theory.

– – – – –

A Couple of Songs I Like

1. (Marathi) “kase kase, haasaayaache…”
Music: Hridaynath Mangeshkar
Singer: Asha Bhosale
Lyrics: Aarati Prabhu

2. (Hindi) “jaaye to jaaye kahaan…”
Singer: Talat Mahmood
Music: S. D. Burman
Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianwi

PS: As usual, I might edit/streamline this post a bit, later on…