2ndlook

Horned Politicians – The Indian Caricature

The World Of Indian PoliticiansFilmi Stereotypes

Till 1980s, the popular Hindi filmi villain was the caricatured businessman. Madhuri Dixit’s movies and the 90’s liberalization, killed this stereotype. Possibly, the massacre of politicians in ‘Inquilab’ ( a 1980’s film starring Amitabh Bachchan) initiated the change of villain from the businessman to the politician. Today, a popular profession for villains in Hindi films is politics.

The Neta In Colonial Times

From colonial times, the Indian neta has been a favorite target of smear campaigns, innuendo and propaganda. Colonial administration in India worked hard to undermine the credibility of the Indian ‘neta’Political Creaturesfor obvious reasons. Colonial bureaucrats (and their successors, the IAS) covered their incompetence and corruption with this lopsided image of the neta. Indians politicians are possibly as corrupt as any others in the world.

Ask the Japanese about Kakui Tanaka and Lockheed affair. Or ask the British about Mark Thatcher shenanigans. But don’t ask Americans about the son of bootlegger who flouted the US Constitution many times – John F.Kennedy. After JFK’s killing, 60 years on, there are many suspects who had motives. Mafia tops this list.

IAS – Indian In Name Only

But the English speaking, Indian bureaucracy is another matter. Having dragged India to the bottom of global corruption pervasiveness ratings, they cover their owns misdeeds, under the ‘umbrella’ of the neta.Cynical View Of The Indian Politician

This is one colonial institution that India has tried digesting, without succes. IAS (ICS during colonial times) a venal, corrupt cadre, has tied up India into knots – which have taken us decades to even start disentangling.

As in colonial era, the IAS lobby works behind the scenes. The IAS lobby continues with this. Indian TV channels routinely conduct sting operations on various institutions – politicians, universities, colleges, film stars, etc. But no one has tried a sting operation on an IAS officer. Is it their propaganda skills that they are able to cover their corruption – and the popular, elected leadership is continually tarred.

Or is it fear?

India’s Relations With Other Neighbours

The Pakistan Fixation is a a cover-up of India’s laziness or lack of resolve on part of the diplomatic corps – the IFS. Does Pakistan have the focus or the persistence to do half the things that India imagines Pakistan is doing.? In the last 20 years, India has lowered its guard – and has become further fixated on the Pakistan bogey. The Pakistan Fixation hides Indian ineptness at confronting the root of Pakistani problem – USA, amongst others.

If India’s problems were limited to Pakistan, possibly, there is some merit to India’s Pakistan Fixation. India’s relations with its other neighbours are also in trouble. Its relations with Bangladesh are at a historic low. Relations with Sri Lanka are back from the brink. Nepal is the new fire in the sub-continent.

Indian neta - favorite target of the Westernized rich

Indian neta - favorite target of the Westernized rich

The Root Of This Problem

The state of inter-government relations in South Asia is a sign of lazy Indian diplomatic corps (the IFS) which considers all these neighbourhood postings as ‘punishment’ postings. The ‘best’ of IFS corps wants postings to Western capitals. Like the IAS, the IFS is another albatross around India’s neck.

A large part of India’s Foreign Ministry budget goes towards Western engagement (for proof, look at the dubious Festivals of India in USA, France, Russia, Britain, etc). Instead if the same money was spent in the sub-continent, it would have been better spent. The huge monies spent on Western embassies are mis directed. It would be ideal if those Western embassies were Spartan, frugal (I should actually say Gandhian) – and the money saved can be invested in the sub-continent.

India’s Western engagement are at a direct cost of involving and managing the neighbourhood relationships. The terrorism related issues have an element of Indian element. After all, who propped up Bhindranwale? The treatment of J&K Governments by the Rajiv and Indira Gandhi do not bear repetition. The birth of LTTE was midwifed by India. I have not followed the Naga and ULFA story as closely to get a clearer fix – but there is an element of ‘games’ in there also. And these ‘games’ have a habit of getting out of hand! It is not a co-incidence that John Nash suffered from schizophrenia.

Hence, our favorite game is blame game – blame the neighbours and get on with the Western pre-occupation. The Pakistani involvement in various crimes of omission and commission could be better understood if our relations with our other neighbours were better. It is India’s superior attitude that makes us believe that we know better. No neighbour would want to willingly embrace China! After all, India offers a template that others can use – and China offers a road map that points downhill. It is India’s superior attitude which has made it attractive for our neighbours to embrace China.

For this reason, again SAARC has been bombast – and little action. It is our diplomatic corps that are found wanting. The SAARC opportunities in the economic area are huge – and history is on our side. It is our Western pre-occupation and Pakistani Fixation which are to blame for the slow uptake on SAARC. SAARC has become a case of all potential and no performance.

The NRI DrivelRahul Gandhi & Congress

Lord Meghnad Desai, in Times Of India, made some ‘standard’ comments about Indian ‘netas‘. While Desai’s article talks about what India’s netas need to do, it gives them no credit for where India is today.

If India’s netas, are powerful enough to influence the future then does it occur to His Lordship that they may have been (at least partly) influential in India’s post-colonial re-construction. Is it too much to expect even-handedness from His Lordship? Does His Lordship realize that India’s under-rated netas have nurtured the world’s only successful Republican Democracy in the last 200 years. India’s illiterate voters have participated enthusiastically in this success. Westernized Indians (like Lord Meghnad Desai) have seen India through a Western eyes and English language.

His prognosis for the West is even more interesting. It is His Lordship’s belief that possibly only the USA (from the West) will make the cut. The Euro zone, he implies will be irrelevant. How and why is Lord Desai silent about the role of Euro-politicians in the decline and eclipse (His Lorship’s pessimism) of Euro-zone. Is it that His Lordship does not dare criticize Western politicians? Or is that the West can do no wrong? Is Euro-eclipse as much black magic as The Rise Of India?

Indian Rope TrickBehind Indian Success

Is this forward march of India an accident ? Or a happy co-incidence? Black magic, perhaps? Not forgetting credit to The West? After all, the the West is confident that modern Indian success is due to Western contribution? Of course, it begs a question as to why this has not happened in any other country.

Not to forget the NRI contribution – especially the Westernized NRIs (like Lord Meghnad Desai who wants to be an Indian now). Possibly, the only people who should not get any credit is are the desi, home grown Indians.

Post script

On April 28th 2009, a little less than one year after this post, some of the details of NSDL and NSE project were revealed. CB Bhave, who set up the dematerialised share repository, NSDL, revealed some interesting facts. The most interesting is that he felt the need to resign from the IAS – for things to happen.

Bhave resigned from the IAS in 1996, to take up what was then seen as a rather low-profile job — to create India’s first share depository, even though he had the option of going there on deputation. “The job needed full-time commitment from me and from the team I was recruiting. How would I get it, if I did not burn my boats myself?” he says. (via Lunch with BS: C B Bhave).

Corruption Perception

India’s Colonial Cousins – The Drag Coefficient of Indian Bureaucracy

Posted in British Raj, Current Affairs, History, India by Anuraag Sanghi on April 15, 2008

If India’s new age regulators are anything to go by. Indian bureaucracy may be shedding its colonial paradigms.

Colonial Institutions

On April 1st, 1934, while the ‘Squeeze India’ campaign was under execution – choreographed by Montagu Norman, Neville Chamberlain, Winston Churchill (some sickness … some racism) Lord Willingdon, India’s banking authority was set up.

The objective of setting up RBI – this colonial money authority, was to devise a policy structure for creating a ‘money famine’ needed by colonial British masters. From that April Fool’s day till now, RBI character has not changed. RBI resorts to creating these money famines every few years – even today. The last RBI ‘money famine’ in 1996 saw inter-corporate interest rates shoot to 40% – and a recession that lasted for 4 years.

RBI remains isolated, out of touch with the India – and looks at India through colonial viewing glasses. The tragedy is that RBI is not alone. The IAS (a successor to the colonial ICS) and the Planning Commission are the other two. The IFS has been pre-occupied with diplomatically engaging the West, fixated with Pakistan, while India’s relations in neighbourhood are at a historic low.

Compare that with the brilliant track record of modern Indian regulators and organizations like the SEBI, TRAI. Or even the IPS. India has the lowest prison population in the world – and also the lowest police-to-population ratio.

SEBI Logo

Modern Indian Institutions

Till 1990-95 Indian stock trading was largely done done through the open outcry system, physical paper settlements, long settlement periods – and rampant manipulation. Indian stock trading systems was a closed club – and did not attract any serious investors.

Between, 1900-1995, SEBI, NSE, BSE and NSDL designed and managed the transition from the physical platform with the open outcry system to a complete electronic trading platform of the NSE and BSE.

BSE Logo

NSE Logo

Today, the BSE/NSE trading system is the most advanced in the world – in terms of trade volumes, transaction volumes and automation. The NSE does more trades in a day than any other exchange in the world. Compared to the less than 20 lakh (2.0 million) trades on the NASDAQ, the NSE did nearly 70 lakh (7.0 million) transactions(on 3rd January 2008). The BSE (Mumbai Stock Exchange) has more than 6,000 companies listed – equaling NYSE and NASDAQ combined.

All this when less than 5% of Indians are investors in equities.

Nearly one year after this post, soe information about the NSE /NSDL success came out in the public sphere. CB Bhave, who was instrumental in setting up the NSDL revealed, that

NSDL revolutionised the capital market by getting market players to accept the new system of dematerialised shares and debentures. He won buyers’ support by arguing that demat would eliminate bad deliveries of shares and impressed upon the sellers that this would facilitate early settlement and early payments. Setting up of a depository that converts physical share certificates into an electronic form was not easy, but the NSDL set up the depository at under Rs 100 crore, or a seventh of the original estimate, and achieved paperless trading within just three years, the fastest in the world. (from Lunch with BS: C B Bhave)

CB Bhave, who set up the dematerialised share repository, NSDL, revealed some interesting facts. The most interesting is that he felt the need to resign from the IAS – for things to happen.

Bhave resigned from the IAS in 1996, to take up what was then seen as a rather low-profile job — to create India’s first share depository, even though he had the option of going there on deputation. “The job needed full-time commitment from me and from the team I was recruiting. How would I get it, if I did not burn my boats myself?” he says. (via Lunch with BS: C B Bhave).

Telecom In India

Mobile Usage Trickles Down

By 2000, India had less than 4 crore phones. Most of the 100 crore (1billion) Indians were unconnected – and disconnected from the world. Governments monopolies, BSNL and MTNL, ruled the roost. Pricing was based on scarcity – rather than any commercial costing or margin strategy.

Mobile phone services had just been introduced – and were exorbitantly priced. Cell phones were status symbols, out of reach for ‘middle class’ Indians too. With low subscriber base and high prices, it seemed like the investments made in the mobile networks would have to be written off. TRAI, the telecom regulator was finding its feet – and being pulled in many directions by lobbyists. It looked like a classic vicious cycle – which could not be broken.

A Kolkata slum dweller with a mobile  |  Photograph: Jayanta Shaw/Reuters/Corbis; courtesy - guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 24 November 2010 11.22 GMT  |  Click for image.

A Kolkata slum dweller with a mobile | Photograph: Jayanta Shaw/Reuters/Corbis; courtesy – guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 24 November 2010 11.22 GMT | Click for image.

By 2001, the BJP led Government came to power. The telecom regulator in a series of bold moves, changed policies – and equations. Tariffs declined by nearly 5000% – from roughly 50 cents to 1 cent per minute. User base ballooned to 20 crores – from 4 crores. In 7 years more telecom users were added than in the previous 70 years. For the first time, the poor in India are beginning to benefit from technology.

India today is one of the fastest growing markets – and one of the largest. It is dominated by profitable operators, providing possibly the lowest tariffs in the world. The next major test for TRAI is the phasing in the new slate of operators who have been granted licences.

All this when just 20% of India is connected.

Indian Railways

After the boycott of the Simon Commission, from 1927, and the death of Lala Lajpat Rai, it was clear (especially to the British) that their days were numbered. Facing problems at home and abroad, the significant British interest in India was extraction of remaining wealth in Indian hands.

A prime example of that was the railways.

Steam Engines

During WW2, nearly 40% rolling stock from India was diverted to the Middle East. More than 50% of the track system was the outdated metre gauge and narrow gauge. Track systems were nearly a century old. 40% of the railway system went to Pakistan. 32 of the forty-two separate railway systems operating in India, were owned by the former Indian princely states. So much for the British gift of railways to India. More than 8000 outdated steam engines were used as motive power – and less than 20 diesel locomotives were in use.

Starved of investments and maintenance, the railways infrastructure at the time of British departure was crumbling. Colonial British (subsequently, the Indian also) response was to affix the blame onto the employee at the lowest rung and move onto the next one accident.

Post Independent India continued with this practice – till LB Shastri called a halt to this. In 1956, the Madras-Tuticorin express plunged into a river when when a bridge at Ariyalur (Tamil Nadu) was washed away in floods. 144 (some records suggest 156) passengers died. He resigned from the Union Cabinet – claiming moral responsibility for the railway accident.

Indian Railways

This resignation saw LB Shastri become a political legend. This (resignation) also changed the mindset of the Indian Railways. After fresh elections of 1957, one year later, he was re-inducted into the Union Cabinet. Steadily, as railways infrastructure was upgraded, accidents decreased.

It took a non-Congress Government in 1977 to change the face of Indian Railways. Prof.Madhu Dandavate, the Railway Minister in the 1977 Janata Government started the railway renaissance in India. 3rd class railway travel was abolished. Wooden-slat seats were abolished. Cushioned 2nd class seating system was made minimum and standard. Train time tables were re-configured. Reservation systems improved. Railways started getting profitable.

The de-colonization of Indian Railways began effectively in 1977 – 30 years after British departure. Symbolically, that was also the year that the Rail Museum was set up. The progress after that has been remarkable. Today for a US$5, an Indian can travel for a 1000 km.

All this when only 25% of Indians travel by rail at least once a year.

New Paradigms

India needs new paradigms.

Unlike Indian Railways, RBI’s colonial paradigms are a drag on India – and is beyond redemption.

The IAS, is too imperial for any use to India. The IAS with an overwhelming colonial bias towards creating a ‘compliance over-load’ on the back of every Indian has resulted in a Frankenstein of a corruption prone administration.

Planning Commission’s signal failures over the years, in managing economic growth resulted in the Planning Commission being nearly disbanded in the 1991-95 period.


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