Monday, December 1, 2003

The Looming Mandate

The Looming Mandate
by Narendra Luther

In our system of democracy we are assured of election at least once in five years or more often. So, we have the circus going on virtually all through the year some where or the other.

Earlier, in December we had elections in five states of Nagaland, Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh. The results belied the opinion poll predictions of experts and the media -- except in the case of Delhi. Various theories were touted up to foretell the results. One was the good old ‘anti-incumbency’ premise which puts the ruling party a disadvantage. This however has been belied repeatedly in West Bengal. It was refuted in Andhra Pradesh in the last elections when Chandrababu Naidu won a second term. The same happened this time in Delhi. Another hypothesis was that of the ‘fatigue factor’ of the ruling party. The defeat of Digvijay Singh in Madhya Pradesh was attributed to his ‘fatigue’ for having ruled for ten years. That however did not apply to in the case of West Bengal. Psephologists have been shown up to be false oracles time and again. They are no better than astrologers whose predictions also come true rarely and that too by accident.

The Bindi Belt

If Mulayam Singh had not dislodged the Dalit ki beti in Uttar Pradesh sometime ago, the recent elections would have converted the conventional Hindi belt into a Bindi belt. Another interesting feature of the recent elections was that ruling women represent all the possible situations in their ‘status’ One is a ‘bachelor’, another, (Rabri Devi) is married, one is separated from her husband, and the fourth is a widow. So it seems that the you cannot put them down in any situation. That is why men are reluctant to give them reservation.

The voter tries to throw out the ruling party in the hope of getting a better deal from the other. The other party is the same old one with new vows. Therein lies the tragedy of the electorate. They have to elect from one party or the other. They do not have the simple prerogative of the housewife of rejecting the entire lot of vegetables as not being good enough. Tall promises are routinely made and forgotten. The one repeated vow about eradication of corruption is fulfilled in its flagrant breach by the leaders themselves. Over the years corruption has only increased. One post-election phenomenon is that of – with due apologies to that noble creature --‘horse trading’. Ajit Jogi's attempt at that was exposed while many others have escaped undetected.

The Electoral Process

In many cases, candidates get elected with a minority of votes. It is a serious flaw in our system.

The second defect is that the electors do not have a choice of rubbishing all the candidates if they are not good enough. This has led some analyst and thinkers to suggest a two-fold reform in our electoral system. The first is that the successful candidate must get an absolute majority of votes. If he doesn’t in the first round, than a second or third round of the election should be held till one candidate gets absolute majority. This system is in vogue in a number of countries including France. Even some political parties have this system for their party elections. Readers will remember that John Major was elected leader of the Conservative Party of England in the second round. The second reform is to have what is called a ‘negative vote’. The elector should have the option of either electing or rejecting any or all the candidate. It will eliminate candidates with a criminal background and compel political parties to set up candidate with good credentials and public acceptance. The initiative taken by the Election Commission and upheld by the supreme court of candidates having to declare details about them including any criminal cases against them will reduce this to some extent. It is said that the proposed reform will necessitate re-elections in many cases. That is a price which we should be prepared to pay for a clean public life. It may be recalled that in the post World War II, De Gaulle had refused to participate in the elections. He stayed in his village and declared that he was available but would not contest. He was called by the people to take over the Presidency of France. Persons of that type can come to public life only if the system provides an avenue for them to walk in with their dignity.

The Crystal Ball

Now the Andhra Pradesh assembly has been dissolved and elections are due in the near future. The term of the Lok Sabha expires in September 2004. There is wide -spread speculation that it might be dissolved earlier and the election might be advanced. It is tempting therefore to look into the crystal ball to see the shape of things to come. As I mentioned no generalization can be advanced without providing for an exception. Since there is no likelihood of reform in the system in the near future, we have to look at the prospects in the light of the existing paradigm.

In Andhra Pradesh Chandrababu Naidu has taken a number of initiatives and is recognized as a most visionary and forward- looking chief minister in the country. He belied the anti- incumbency theory in the last elections. However his critics say that he has followed elitist programs and his attention has been urban -centered. It is said that Digvijay Singh of Madhya Pradesh lost because he devoted his attention to rural areas at the cost of urban areas. The reverse might happen in the case of Chandrababu Naidu. However even his enemies concedes that his political shrewdness is acute. The sympathy factor because of the near-fatal attack on him would probably have spent itself by the time he goes to the polls. There in no doubt however it will be drummed up by his party. He cannot therefore be easily written off.

At the national level the picture is very confused. The main fight will be between the Congress and the BJP with other smaller parties joining one or the other. The stands of both the parties are well known. BJP will no doubt harp on its achievements particularly in the field of economic development as exhibited in the steep rise of the Sensex. The Congress and their possible allies will highlight the dents made in the secular image of the country by BJP and its supporting organizations. The position however is far from polarized. Some surprises may be sprung from either side. In the recent elections the score on the corruption side was equal on both sides. The parties will be more cautious lest they should be caught either red - handed.

Whatever happens, the caravan will go on. We will have either the same set of rulers or new ones, which, as George Orwell showed in his ‘Animal Farm’ is the same thing. ‘The more things change, the more they remain the same’!

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Saturday, November 1, 2003

A The Problem of the New Mantra

A The Problem of the New Mantra
By Narendra Luther

I was born a slave, grew up as a free man, and am not sure in what status I will die. Joan of Arc heard voices. I hear slogans. Their burthen is that the mischief is afoot and I shall become a slave once again. The cacophony of the shouting brigades makes life interesting even though I don’t have any share in shaping it.

I came to manhood when Jawaharlal Nehru, the high priest of socialism, was guiding the destiny of India. He was a child of Fabian Socialism. Considering the level of industrial development at that stage, and the lack of entrepreneurship, it seemed right then to set up public undertakings. However, he modified the rigid statism of the Soviets to what he called ‘mixed economy’. In that system, the private sector was allowed to co-exist with the public sector. So, the official policy onslaught in India stopped with the capture of the ‘the commanding heights of the economy’. The tendency, however, was to extend the official tentacles and forays were made into businesses of all types.

The Indian Scene

in 2002, there were 240 public undertakings under the union government entailing an investment of over 324632 crores. They employed 19.94 lakh persons. There is a parallel public sector in the States. It has about 1000 units entailing an investment of about 120,000 crores. It has about 20 lakh employees. The overall investment in public sector thus represents about 20 percent of the GDP of India, and employment about 13 percent of the employment in the organized sector. 109 undertakings under the Union Government were making losses in 2002. The coal and power undertakings, which accounted for 40 percent of the total investment, were making heavy losses. In the States the profit making units were an exception.

The Collapse of Soviet Socialism

When the iron curtain began to be lifted, it was found that the promised land of the Communist Manifesto was as far away as it had always been. This realization was publicly acknowledged by a daring Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. He was the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1985 to 1991, during the last three years of which he was also the President of the country. He propounded the twin concepts of glasnost (more open form of government) and perestroika (restructuring). They spelt the doom of a economic and political system based on regimentation – and of the man himself. They also led inevitably to globalization and privatization of industries.

With the fall of the ‘model ‘ and its satellites, the entire philosophy of socialism with its corollary of state control came in for re-examination in many countries including India.

‘NEP’ in India

The new economic policy in India based on liberalization and globalization was inaugurated in 1991 by Dr. Manmohan Singh, the Finance Minister under PV Narasimha Rao. It had been long argued that the public sector has served its time. It was flabby, over-manned, and low in productivity. The quality of it goods was inferior and prices high. Used to operating in a regime of controls and administered prices, it was unable to face the new world of competition.

The World Bank was attaching conditionalities of free and liberal economies to its aid programmes. It canvassed for the abolition of distinction between production for domestic markets and exports, or in the purchase of goods.

In 1996, the Government of India set up a Disinvestment Commission by an executive order to advise on the methodology and specifics of disinvestment. It was reconstituted in 2001 with reduced authority.

This policy was not only continued but further refined by the NDA government. A separate Ministry of Disinvestment was created. During 1991-92 to 2002-03, equity was sold in 48 companies.

The same policy was adopted in the States also. The Planning Commission has been offering incentives for restructuring of the State public sector through a policy of Memos of Understanding. So far, it has entered such MOU’s with 12 States. In Andhra Pradesh, which led other States in this matter, the policy of reform and restructuring covered both public and the cooperative sectors. Since 1993-94, it has closed, privatized or merged 12 units and downsized or restructured nine units. By such measures, the State Government would be saving Rs. 256 crores annually after netting off VRS, and debt resolution. In addition, it will also save Rs. 608 crores annually in terms of guarantees. The exercise is being pursued vigorously. Similar programmes are going on in other States also.

Opposition & Hurdles

Naturally, opposition to such a policy was expected from the affected parties. And it was not late or short in coming. The employees of the public sector alleged that disinvestments resulted in ‘privatization of profits and nationalization of losses’. The Left parties supported nationwide agitations of employees against the policy of disinvestment. They argued that there was nothing wrong with the concept of socialism. The managements sabotaged it. It could be run efficiently if only there was a will to do so. The Government was under pressure of the World Bank and IMF to ‘sell out’ to the multinationals. It was bartering away its sovereignty and going in for a phase of neocolonialism.

Ashok Rao, President of the Federation of the National Confederation of Associations of Officers of Public Sector Undertakings articulated the concerns of the employees. He argued, for example, that though the book value of the investment on public undertakings was Rs. 1,13,234 crores (1991 figures), its replacement value is over 100 times that figure.

There is opposition to the policy from within the ranks of the main party of the ruling alliance – BJP. Even some ministers are opposed to it. The Swdeshi Jagran Manch opposed it as the return of the East India Company.

Undeterred by the criticism, the government is going ahead with its policy. It hit a roadblock when it decision to divest in the two oil companies – Hindustan Petroleum and Bharat Petroleum – created by parliamentary enactment was challenged in he Supreme Court. The court gave its verdict that a creature of parliamentary enactment cannot be extinguished through executive orders. The Government lacks the majority in the Rajya Sabha to have the necessary amendment passed. So, the train has been derailed for the time being.

The Outlook

Bertrand Russell said the while fools are cocksure, wise men are always tentative. Wishing to be counted in the second category, I feel it foolhardy to pronounce on the merits of the controversy. In social policy there is nothing like God’s word. Democratic politics is predicated on the premise that theories about social welfare will vary like fashions. They come and go. The heresy of yesterday is the orthodoxy of today – and the cycle may still turn.

So, I remain an amused bystander. The drama is exciting enough as probably the last free show of my life.


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Wednesday, October 1, 2003

Render the Account

Render the Account
By Narendra Luther

Tom Paine, the English revolutionary and thinker of the 18th century says in his celebrated book Rights of Man, that Government is the badge of man’s lost innocence. It is a necessary evil for civilized existence.

But safeguards have to be provided against the arbitrary exercise of power by government to maintain civilized existence.

No taxation without representation is an old axiom of democracy. That is to ensure that no unjust or unnecessary tax is imposed on the citizens. That is half the job. The other half is to ensure that the money collected from the citizens is spent properly for the purpose for which it is raised. In other words, the propriety of expenditure also needs to be ensured.

Citizen and the Government

To scrutinizes the utilization of public funds by the Government, our Constitution has created the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General. His findings are placed before the Public Accounts Committee. All instances of irregularities and improprieties and recommendations thereon by the Committee are placed before the legislature for appropriate remedial and punitive action against the delinquent authorities. While this is good, these reports are in the nature of a post-mortem and are useful largely for the future.

Secondly, given the party system of government, the elected representatives may overlook the infractions of the administration depending upon their party affiliations. Also, in the plethora of technicalities, the average citizen cannot grasp what is happening. Many people have therefore argued that we should supplement the present system of accountability of administration to elected representatives with direct and ongoing scrutiny by the people. That would ensure that mischief is nipped in the bud.

Information is Power

For such a scrutiny, relevant data and information are necessary. It has been said aptly that information is power. That power lies with the bureaucracy and it is loath to share it with others. As the French semiologist, Jean Baudrillard says in his book, Cool Memories, ‘Information can tell us everything. It has all the answers. But they are answers to questions we have not asked’.

For any scheme of empowering people, therefore, access to information is the first crucial step. It will discourage arbitrary action on the part of the bureaucracy and protect the citizens’ basic right to due process and equal protection of the law. It will also reduce corruption within government institutions and enhance integrity amongst public functionaries.

The question of enacting legislation to provide access to information has assumed importance come up in the last decade or so. According to Privacy International, 51 countries had such comprehensive Freedom of Information laws in place in April 2003. In India, similar legislation has been passed in some states to enable citizens to access information from government officials.

Information provides the transparency necessary for ensuring accountability. UNDP defines accountability ‘as the requirement that officials answer to stakeholders on the disposal of their powers and duties, act on criticisms or requirements made of them and accept (some) responsibility for failure, incompetence or deceit.’

Citizen’s Charter

An offshoot of the right to information is the Citizen’s Charter. According to article 21(2) of the United Nations Declaration of Universal Human Rights, ‘Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country’. Citizen’s Charter enlightens the citizens about their rights and how they can secure them. In case public officials fail to provide specific public services, they have to pay prescribed penalties. In India, Andhra Pradesh was perhaps the first state to adopt the concept when it issued its ‘Vision 2020’ document in 1999. Following upon that, some departments and public utilities issued their own Citizen’s Charters. The latest to do so is the Police. However, penalties for failure to provide specific services by public servants have not been indicated in some of the charters.

Civil Society Initiatives
By himself, an average citizen lacks adequate knowledge and resources to take up individual and collective grievances with the government. That is more so due to illiteracy and poverty of a vast section of our populace. So, a number of social action groups have come up in different states to take up public issues. They have pioneered the concept of generating valid and potent information to contest and challenge discretionary abuses and to expose corruption. A good example of that is the work of an NGO – the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS). Through the medium of 'public hearings' to demand public accountability, the Sangathan has been quite successful in bringing about transparency of development expenditure; accountability of officials; redress of grievances; and legitimization of social or public audit. The Public Affairs Centre in Bangalore has organized public interaction with official of the Municipal Corporation on provisions in the budget and their utilization. In Andhra Pradesh, the Lok Satta has taken up a number of issues in this regard. Its latest initiative is to mobilize public opinion to confer empowerment on the local bodies provided in the 73rd and 74th amendments of the Constitution, which have not yet become a reality.
Consumer’s Rights
It is not only with regard to government that transparency and the right to information is important. Similar transparency is important in regard to other institutions and organizations which serve social needs. We are all consumers of products and services. We need to be assured of their quality. We need to be protected from unscrupulous trade practices of manufacturers and suppliers of goods and services. ‘Goods once sold will not be taken back’ is a motto encountered everywhere in our country. Such a stipulation does not exist anywhere in the western countries. There, consumer is really the king. The Consumer Protection Act was enacted by the Parliament in 1986 and amended in 1993. Under it, National and State Councils and District Forums have been established for the redress of the grievances of the consumers. The concept of accountability has thus been extended to private organizations in manufacture, trade and commerce also.
Rights of Investor
The third aspect of accountability is with regard to the world of shares. Every entrepreneur borrows from public financial institutions and the public direct through public issues. As user of public funds, he is accountable for their proper utilization. The need for accountability in that field has also been felt particularly after some scams rocked the market. The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has taken a number of steps to promote sound corporate governance. However much remains to be done. The non-official directors do not get to know about much of the day-to day working of companies. Yet, under law they are responsible for all the acts of the company. The shareholders get only one opportunity in a year to ask questions and they are easily disposed of. A specific and clear delegation of authority from the board to the executive directors needs to be provided for.
Our freedom has many aspects. They all need to be secured in order to ensure continuance of our civilized existence. Therein lies the importance of multifaceted accountability.
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Monday, September 1, 2003

Daughter of the soil

Daughter of the soil
By Narendra Luther

Help! I am in grave danger of soon becoming a stateless person. No, I am not kidding. With the Home Minister who is also the Deputy PM of India having been dubbed as a Pakistani, the former refugees from Pakistan like me can’t be far behind. While Advani, being an influential politician might be able to manage to stay on -- or if the worse comes to worst -- strike a deal with his former homeland, a common man like me has no such chances. After a long time, I managed to become qualified as a ‘Mulki’ in Hyderabad. If I lose that status, I shall become, in Homer’s phrase, a ‘lawless, homeless, hearthless one’ I shall have to appeal to the International Commission for Refugees. Where will they send me now that I am past the productive -- and sad to admit -- even the reproductive age!

This entire hullabaloo arose because with her election as President of the Congress Party, Sonia Gandhi, also became a potential Prime Minister of India. In fact, she is already the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and thus a shadow Prime Minister. In our system of party politics which is a play of light and shade, at periodic intervals, the shadow becomes reality, and reality the shadow. To pre-empt that occurrence, voices have been raised about her being a foreigner.

The ‘Mulki Formula’

People in Andhra Pradesh are quite familiar with the working of the ‘Mulki’ doctrine of the former state of Hyderabad. Under that one had either to be born within the State or be a resident for 14 years to be a ‘Mulki’. Its rigour was further refined in the Six-Point Formula promulgated by the Government of India in 1960s. Under that, public servants can be transferred only within the three traditional regions of the State. For a student from the Andhra region of the State, it is easier to get admission to a university in any part of the world than in the Telangana region – and vice versa. It has only sharpened the demand for the separate state of Telangana.

It is an insidious form of the doctrine of ‘sons of the soil’, which has raised its ugly head lately in most of the States.

Domiciliary Qualification

As against that, in politics, there is no requirement of domicile. Any one can contest a seat for the Lok Sabha from anywhere in India. Thus, Sonia Gandhi and Sushma Swaraj, both residents of Delhi, contested from Karnataka in the last elections. Buta Singh, a Punjabi Sikh, contested from Rajasthan. The Rajya Sabha, which is supposed to provide representation to States has a requirement of domicile in the State from which a candidate can contest. That has been overcome by the ruse of renting a house in a city of the ‘safe’ State. Thus, R.K. Dhawan was able to become a member of the Rajya Sabha from A.P. by renting a house in Hyderabad.

Any citizen of India who is 25 years of age can contest for a seat in Parliament. Briefly, any Member of Parliament can become Prime Minister. The Congress Party has for their own reasons chosen Sonia Gandhi as their leader. In case the Party gets a majority of seats in the Lok Sabha, or can cobble a coalition claiming majority in the Lok Sabha, Sonia can lawfully become Prime Minister. It is that prospect that creates a panic amongst many aspirants to the Prime Ministry, and their followers. They argue that it is violative of our dignity as a nation to have a foreigner as Prime Minister. But she is now a citizen of India and it is pointless to rake up the past. In fact, she is already the leader of the Opposition with the rank of a cabinet minister.

Foreigners in India

In this context, it may be worth noting that in the past many foreigners have served India in various capacities with distinction. I am not referring to the paid officials of the East India Company or, later of the Crown. An Englishman, A.O. Hume, a member of ICS, denounced the revenue from the sale of liquor as ‘ wages of sin’. He wrote a letter to the Calcutta University graduates inviting 50 volunteers to join in a movement to promote the mental moral, social and political regeneration of India. This letter led to the formation of the Indian National Congress in 1885. He was Secretary or Joint Secretary of 19 out of the first 22 sessions of the Congress. In 1908, the Congress passed a resolution describing him as father of the Indian National Congress. Sir William Wedderburn, after his retirement, devoted himself to the promotion of the Congress. He was elected President of the Congress at its 4th session. Back in England, he became head of the India Party. Sir Henry Cotton retiring as Chief Commissioner returned to India and presided over the 1904 session of the Indian National Congress. Annie Besant, an English woman founded the Home Rule League to demand self rule for Indians. She was elected President of the Congress Party in 1917. C.F. Andrew was another Englishman who became a follower of Mahatma Gandhi and fought for the freedom of the country. The ‘Mother’ of the Pondicherry Ashram was French, but revered by Indians. After attaining independence in 1947, the first Governor General appointed by us was an Englishman. When an Albanian missionary, settled in India, was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1979, we celebrated her as an Indian. No one then raised the point of Mother Teresa’s foreign origin.

Indians Abroad

Look at the other side of the coin. Persons of Indian origin were elected members of the British House of Commons. Some sat in the House of Lords. Swaraj Paul is still there. Daleep Singh Saund became a senator n U.S. Some have been elected to the legislatures of States. Vaz was a junior minister in England until recently. Another is a minister in Canada. We cried foul when a duly elected Prime Minister of Indian origin was toppled in Fiji.

People’s Choice

The criterion is the judgment of the public as reflected in the popular vote. She has already crossed the first hurdle. The oldest and the largest political party in the country has chosen her as its leader. The voters have duly elected her as a member of Lok Sabha. If the people are against her, nothing prevents them from defeating her in elections. The objections raised against her as being a foreigner, have led to ludicrous counter-objections that Advani is a Pakistani, and Vajpayee is an Aryan. Today no country in the world can claim ethnic purity. In India, we rejoice in our pluralism. All the religions of the world co-exist in this ancient land just as all the climatic variations of the world are replicated here. We have laid down the rules of the game of power in the Constitution. Let us play the game according to them.


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Friday, August 1, 2003

Your Time is Up

Your Time is Up
By Narendra Luther

Economists of the classical school, like J.B. Say and Marshall, listed three factors of production: Land, Labour and Capital. They did not seem to have recognized that these operate under the overarching constraint of another factor - Time. Modern management experts have underscored the crucial role of Time.

Time has two contradictory characteristics. By itself, it is unlimited. But for each one of us it is limited. All of us are busy trying to kill time, but in the end, time will kill us. Of the various resource that we employ in any productive activity, time is the only on which is inflexible. Land – traditionally considered ‘fixed’-- can be acquired. Not time. Banks pay and charge interest for time. Most of our replies to letters begin with the standard apology; I did not get time earlier. Actually, it was there all the time. You did not take care to take it. It takes only few minutes to reply to any letter.

An Inflexible Resource

For most jobs, we are given deadlines. Time-overruns carry a penalty because time gone is an opportunity lost. Teachers of modern business management emphasize the value of time. Time is important not only in business; it is equally important in our private life.

Another advice dinned into our ears is to prioritize. That is necessary again because as the poet said, ‘art is long and time is short’, implying the necessity of prioritization.’ First things first’ formula is important because later things run the risk of being left out—for want of time.

Recently I read an interesting and instructive story. A man made an offer to give $86,400 to a person. There was only one condition. He must spend it within 24 hours. Now the man had numerous ideas about the things he wanted to acquire. But he was not ready to splurge the amount in such a short time. He thought of what he needed most. So, this constraint of time forced him to prepare a list of his priorities.

This happens to all of us all the time – everyday. There are 86,400 seconds in a day of 24 hours. We have to decide what to do with them. If we cannot make up our mind, that gift is lost forever. If one were to think of it, one would be surprised at the amount of loss we have suffered already.

So, planning our time is a very important. All our other achievement are dependent on that. Nothing can be done unless we allocate time to it. The goals of life are to be set considering that we have limited time. Napoleon observed in his Maxims that ‘ there is one kind of robber whom the law does not strike at, and who steals what is most precious to men: time’.

Your Own Time

First decision is how much time you are willing to allocate to your work. The general division is eight hours each for work, eating, and sleep respectively. Depending upon your age, health, and goals, you will have to modify the allocation. Napoleon said that man needed five hours, woman six, and child seven for sleep. Only fools needed more than that. But he was an exception who could sleep on horseback. We are lucky. We have the luxury of cars and it is far more comfortable to sleep in them provided you are not driving. Once an allocation has been made, the problem of managing that time will crop up. Most of us leave our time management at the mercy of others. A friend drops in without appointment and sheer good manners will force you to let him steal your time. It is assumed that if you are at home you are free. A friend of mine asked another mutual friend if he was at home in the evening. Yes, he replied. ‘Then I will drop in at six’, said our friend. ‘No’ he replied, ‘I have an appointment at that time’.
’Appointment with whom?’ asked the other friend.

‘With myself’, he said calmly.

He was the only Indian I have met who had the courage to say that. After all an appointment with oneself is mores important than with anybody else. But we assume that if you are alone you are doing nothing -- and are available!

Modern Techniques

In a rough sort of way, most of us do some time-management. A cooking range provides four burners. That is because a housewife cooks some dishes simultaneously, or according to the time taken by them, in a certain sequence. If there were only one burner, she would be forced to cook the dishes consecutively and waste a lot of her time. A coking range enables her to do her own intuitive analysis, work out sequencing, and cut down the cooking time. When you have to do a number of things, you try to take them up in such a way that you save time by bundling them as far as possible. Management experts have formalized them into what they call Programme Evaluation and Review Techniques (PERT) and prepare a Critical Path Method (CPM). These methods are employed in major jobs like erection of a steel plant, which entails a multitude of activities. They help managers to sequence activities so as to optimize the use of resources. It helps them to decide whether steel should be ordered before cement has arrived and so on. On a micro level, these techniques can be consciously applied to our daily routine. In the ladder of evolution, external discipline precedes self-discipline. Many persons are excellent managers when it comes to official work. That is because they are required to observe rules laid down by others, at the risk of losing their job. The same efficient managers are often sloppy in their private affairs because of the absence of external discipline. Superior beings internalize discipline and learn to be answerable to themselves.

Two things arise from the above. We have to optimize the utilization of time. For that we have to learn not to place it at the mercy of others.

External Discipline

Here again ‘external’ aids help. If you sit down in your study at a fixed time regularly, after some time you will be automatically led to that room at the appointed time. Also, it helps to have different places for different types of activities. The dining room is not conducive to serious work. Nor is bedroom. Properly maintained, it should induce sleep, not activity.

Life can thus become orderly and its pattern conducive to optimum results. However, I must warn against the danger of a martinet existence. Too much regimentation is the enemy of creativity. My last word therefore would be that having ordered your life, introduce an element of occasional disorderliness to sample what is going on elsewhere. I believe that railway accidents happen sometime because the engine jumps off the fixed rails out of sheer boredom of routine. Avoid boredom – to yourself and others.


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Tuesday, July 1, 2003

Liquid Famine

Liquid Famine
By Narendra Luther

This is the year of water. So, let us look at water before it flows into history.

Water is life. Rivers and water bodies are sources of sustenance for fauna flora and humans. That is why most of the cities of the world were established on the banks of rivers. Great civilizations developed and flourished on the banks of rivers like the Tigris, the Nile, the Euphrates, and the Sind. With the change in the course of rivers, or their drying up, cities are known to have vanished.

Basic facts about water

A few basic facts about water: First, from the day the planet earth came into being till today, the amount of total water availability has not varied.

Second, we have been tempering with the traditional systems of reservoirs of water, both natural and man-made. Constructions like factories, buildings, and other obstructions have been allowed to come up in the catchments. This has resulted in blocking of natural flows of water.

Third, the water supply systems have been increasingly centralized. In place of dispersed storages created by nature or local communities, official reservoirs have been created and distribution from them has been placed under centralized bureaucracies.

Fourth, desilting of water bodies and channels has not been attended to routinely, thus reducing their storage, and carrying capacity respectively.

Last, in new colonies and the laying of roads and lanes, natural drainage has not been respected and no proper substitute plans have been provided. That has resulted in water logging in various areas even after a brief shower.

The looming scarcity

In addition, global warming has adversely affected weathers and seasons. Rains have become erratic. They don’t conform to seasons. That has affected the system of water supply, which is predicated on seasons. Indian agriculture has traditionally been called a ‘gamble in monsoons’. Now the magnitude of the gamble has been enhanced by the uncertain opening time of the ‘casino’.

We therefore face a situation of water famine unheard of before. Cassandras have predicted acute shortage of water even by 2020’s and a permanent scarcity by 2050. Rural Jills have to trudge up to ten kilometers to fetch a pail of water. It is quite conceivable that the wars of the future would be for water more than for oil. In India, we already find ‘civil wars’ between the riparian states like Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka and AP for sharing of waters from common river sources.

The Garland Canal Project

A paradox in our water situation is that when some areas are suffering from drought, others have deluges. In order to develop a balance, the late Dr K.L. Rao, an eminent engineer who became the minister for irrigation of India, conceived the ‘garland project’ four decades ago. Considered too ambitious and costly, it was not pursued. Now, the present government has revived it and has set up a Task Force to work out the details of the project which is estimated to cost Rs. 5,60,000 crores. I cannot comment upon the practicality of the project at this stage except that it seems too ambitious and given the vicissitudes in our political set up, may not be pursued to its conclusion. Also, it may be bogged down by the sorts of conflicts between states which we are witnessing even today. The situation is grim and is becoming worse every year. Mr. Sompal, member of the Planning Commission in charge of Water Resources has caustically observed that ‘the river linking will not happen in our lifetime’.

In early June 2003, the Hyderabad Urban Development Authority organized an International Workshop on Lakes in Hyderabad. It was part of the expression of its concern about the lack of maintenance of water bodies which is a contributing factor in our water problem. A strange phenomenon is at work in India and other developing counties. The routine maintenance of public assets and works is generally neglected. At the same time, new investments are being made in creating new assets. Because of this policy, the initial capacity and efficiency of the existing utilities goes on diminishing progressively. In the case of Electricity Boards, for example, loss in transmission and frequent breakdowns is attributed by technical people to inattention to maintenance and upgradation of the existing ‘plant’. Similar neglect is in evidence in the case of water sources. We allow this neglect till a crisis develops. Then it is tackled on an emergency basis. That is because the creation of new assets makes news while their maintenance of the existing assets goes unnoticed. So, both from the pint of view of drama and votes, attention is paid to new projects and not to routine maintenance of old ones. A manager of a public utility becomes a hero when he tackles a crisis though it might have been created by his own negligence.

Story of Lakes

A good example is provided by the Workshop on lakes referred to above. Encroachments on lakebeds, their pollution by the free flow of sewerage into them and diversion of water from them has been allowed unchecked. In Hyderabad, the Vengala Rao Park in Banjara Hills was recently inaugurated with great fanfare. No one mentioned that it was laid on the dead body of a lake which was systematically killed by encroachers and land grabbers. Earlier, similar development had happened in the case of Mansab Tank. As the very name suggests, it was a lake. Today there is a habitation – and a park there.

Lopsided priorities

At the Workshop referred to above, Mr. Sompal, Member of the Planning Commission expressed his concern at the lack of adequate concern for the development of water resources. He said that while Rs. 98,900 crores were allocated to the telecommunication sector in the 10th Plan, only 3,300 crores was provided for water resources. In the 9th Plan the allocation was Rs. 92,600 crores for the telecom sector and Rs. 1955 crores for water resources. We are trying to provide better communication for people whose very existence is at stake!

It was also announced at the Hyderabad Workshop on Lakes that it is proposed to privatize these water bodies. That would be only legalizing the existing situation. Already water bodies are treated by people as private property. Witness the encroachments, constructions, landfills and diversion of water that is taking place in lakes. What is required is more effective public control over them and not offering them to private parties.

Earlier people have died of food famines. The Nobel Laureate, Amartya Sen has observed that famines take place in dictatorships, not in democracies. He was referring to food famines. His logic is that the public awareness of the developing situation and the clamour raised about them will prevent their occurrence. Well, the new famine of water is developing under democratic regimes in India. Indians will not die of starvation henceforth; they will die of thirst. The only relieving feature of such a death is that it is quicker.
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Sunday, June 1, 2003

Whose Century?

Whose Century?
By Narendra Luther

In my article on the Anglo- American attack on Iraq in the April issue (A Fable for our Times), I said that its outcome was predictable. Despite the hype created by the two governments and the western media about the enormity of the weapons of mass destruction that Iraq was alleged to be possessing, it was a walkover for the ‘coalition forces’. More than a month after the conquest of Iraq, the victors have not been able to substantiate their charges of the existence of the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) with Iraq. This has led to the cynical remark that the initials WMD stood for ‘weapons of mass deception’ and they were in the possession of the coalition forces. Also, if they are now discovered in Iraq, they will be suspected to have been planted, which the Police resort to in many cases. Art Buchwald, the American satirist-columnist has observed that instead of spending 75 billion dollars on eliminating Saddam, the U.S. administration could have got it done in one billion dollars through one of the Italian mafias in the U.S!

Body blow to UN

The basic motive of the Americans in attacking Iraq was always suspect. If it was to remove a tyrannical dictator, there were others far more deserving of that treatment than Saddam. The Americans are actively supporting many of them as indeed they did Saddam earlier when it suited them. The reception, which the coalition forces expected to be accorded in the vanquished country, was not enthusiastic enough to justify their vaunted claims that they were liberating the people from a despot’s tyranny.

The US approach to the Iraq question could be faulted on many counts. The Americans tried to take the UN with them in their campaign. When three permanent members of the Security Council refused to go along with them, the US decided to go it alone nevertheless. Both the US and the UK took the self-righteous stand that they were satisfied with the evidence they had about the delinquencies of the dictatorial regime in Iraq. That evidence was not shared with the lesser members of UN. The UN charter prohibits interferes in the internal affairs of any sovereign country. Thus, the very approach of the US and the UK dealt a body blow to the UN. For more than a decade, sanctions had been imposed on Iraq for possession of WMD’s. Now without having discovered them, or admitting that they were not there, the Americans want the sanctions lifted. Important members of the UN are against such an arbitrary approach. In my article referred to above, I had likened the America behaviour to that of the village tyrant. If the village panchayat did not go along with him, it was removed. The US bypassed the world panchayat (UN), and having got used to it, it shall do so again.

While in many Islamic countries, there was open expression of anger at the attack on Iraq; in other countries, there was a sense of moral outrage at the action. Again, as in the case of the village landlord, some countries thought it expedient to keep quiet, or just to mumble unhappiness, but the resentment against the action was universal.

Motive for Attack

The feeling that the motive for the attack was oil more than any thing else is strengthened by the fact that while priceless heritage in the Iraqi museum was allowed to be plundered and destroyed, adequate action was taken to safeguard the oil wells. That is why now the question being asked all around is: which country next? Syria has already been sufficiently chastened verbally by the victors of Iraq.

The American are not able to overcome the shock of 9/11 and the fall of the twin towers. The myth of its almight and invulnerability was shattered by that incident. An invisible band of terrorists, which cocked a snook at its fortress security, sent the nation into an unprecedented flurry. To eliminate the possibility of such a recurrence, it has vowed to root out terrorism wherever it exists. It is a laudable objective but here too consistency is lacking in its policy. It does not exhibit a uniform concern at the terrorist activity in places like Kashmir. Such an approach does not inspire faith; it generates cynicism.

With the demise of the Soviet Union, the bi-polar world of the last century is gone. Earlier, the Soviet Union could counter any move by the US, which threatened to upset the delicate balance of powering today’s uni-polar world where there is only one super- power. The non-aligned movement (NAM), which was born out of the bi-polar situation, has been rendered irrelevant. Earlier, non-alignment meant equidistance from the two poles. Now you are either with one power or you are against it. The very term ‘balance’ implies the existence of two units. In today’s situation, the balance can only mean the US (with its satellites) vs. the rest of the world. Who can be the spokesman of the rest of the world?

Morality in international conduct

While self –interest of nations determines international relations, there is a minimum sense of justice which must be perceived in the external policies and acts of nations. No nation can override the interests of other nations for all times. There is a feeling now that there is no one to counter any move by the US. She can get away with anything. There is a rudimentary sense of equity with which international policies and actions are judged. Today the American might is unchallenged. That however does not mean it can do whatever it likes anywhere. The bomb blast in Saudi Arabia on the eve of the visit of Collin Powell, and later at Casablanca show how many invisible forces are working against the US, and no body knows how and where they will hit.

The American historian, Barbara Tuchman, in her book ‘The March of Folly’ has shown how all wars from the Trojan to Vietnam were acts of folly. At that time they were waged, they were shown to be fully justified by those who initiated them. In retrospect, she shows them as unnecessary and avoidable. It reinforces the old saying attributed to Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, and at least to six other statesmen: ‘See my son with how little wisdom the world is governed.’

Noting the emergence of the US as the unchallenged power, many pundits have declared that the 21st Century belongs to America. That is based on too narrow a reading of recent developments, and an insufficient appreciation of historical factors. Today in the global village, political hegemony has to be closely accountable to the Panchayat. As in our masala films, at the end of the day, the landlord–villain is humbled. Jack kills the giant and good sense comes to prevail. What is blinding us today might as well be the last flicker of the flame for the American lamp. The century will belong, not to the almighty America, but to the meek of the world.


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Thursday, May 1, 2003

A Form of Wealth

A Form of Wealth
By Narendra Luther

It was once said, ‘ if wealth is lost, nothing is lost, if health is lost something is lost, if character is lost every thing is lost.’ Such a statement could have been made only by some one who was poor – and before electoral politics was introduced in India. Now the order has changed. We see every day that wealth is every thing and the loss of character does not mean anything. On the other hand, it only increases the chances of becoming wealthier. But health remains in the middle of either order. You can strut about without character, but you can’t move from your bed without good health. You can earn pots of money, but you can’t enjoy it without good health. You can only make doctors wealthy.

Health is so important that in every society an inquiry about it forms an integral part of the initial greeting. It is a curse of human estate that you have to do so much to maintain good health. Animals keep their health merely by living their life. They remain healthy unless some human being inflicts some injury on them. Veterinary hospitals have been opened by human beings for animals, largely to keep them in an unnatural state – and for their own amusement. However, not being one myself, I don’t know much about animals. I am quite surprised when some people make pronouncements about the likes and dislikes of animals, like: ‘ O! dogs love biscuits’. All I know is that they like to be left alone and that is one thing that we don’t do. We are essentially ringmasters in a circus. When we say we love animals, we mean those whom we keep under our control.

However, let us revert to the problem of maintaining good health in humans. There is an old saying that prevention is better than cure. Surely, it was not a physician who would have said that. Who would want his business ruined? I believe the reverse of it – cure is better than prevention. Prevention is a daily nuisance, a regime of constant denial, something that may finally turn out to be entirely unwarranted. On the other hand, a cure becomes necessary only occasionally and makes for a good departure from routine. I do not like the hard work involved in trying to maintain good health. One of them is taking some sort of exercise every day – like walking. Now, walking to no purpose is a complete waste of time and energy. I walk when I have to reach somewhere, for some work and not just to return tired after half an hour or so.

To know the importance of good health, it is necessary to fall ill sometime. A healthy person does not know what it means to be healthy -- or sick. A sick person knows both and so is better informed. I am not advocating the cause of ill health. I am not an agent of the medical profession. I am talking of small harmless illnesses like a bad cold, a minor hurt, and a small fever. A sort of situation, which is not life – threatening, and is generally described as ‘indisposition’ in the medical bulletin of VIP’s. It provides you with much- needed break from routine, and a short absence from your social circle. It enhances your social importance. People enquire why you were absent from a particular function. It generates sympathy for you. It provides you an opportunity to know who cares for you and how much. It is an index of your importance. It distinguishes friends from foes. Friends want to know if your indisposition is something serious -- and are disappointed if it is not. On hearing about the sickness of a friend, the instinctive remark is, ‘ Nothing trivial, I hope’.

Callers ask you how you fell ill. Some people seize upon that opportunity to transform themselves into an Ancient Mariner. I have heard such sob stories many times. Sometime, the tape is replayed when another caller drops in while I am still there. Good manners prevent me from interrupting. That is a signal for me to leave. I do not get into narrating the Arabian Night when I fall ill. I try to dismiss it as ‘one of those things’. But some callers are not satisfied. Last time I got reports that they spread the canard that I was merely feigning sickness since I could not say how it all happened. So, credibility lies in conformity.

If you are not the social type, it provides an opportunity to be all by your self. Just loll about in your bed and listen to your favourite music, or read a book that was lying neglected on the shelf awaiting your attention. It also gives you an excuse not to do the daily shave or take he prescribed bath or even change your clothes. You can ask your favourite dishes to be prepared and, having savoured them, sleep as much as you like. During the period of your indisposition, you are the centre of the world for the family. The rest of the world becomes secondary. It also provides time for you to brood, to think about the worthwhile ness of your work and to think of doing something different, or the same thing differently. It is during such interludes of enforced idleness that most of the inventions of the world were made, and some careers changed. George Bernard Shaw put it in his own way when he said,’ I enjoy convalescence. It is that part which makes illness worthwhile’

Medical advice is never so freely available as when you are unwell. Callers will tell you how they got out of a similar ailment by taking a particular medicine. If you are on allopathic system, some one will advice you to go in for homeopathy. If you are already an addict of the sweet pill, your well wisher will exhort you to try Ayurveda. If you are a votary of this native system, some friend will ask you to come out of superstitions and orthodoxies if you want to live at all. Some persons start parallel streams of treatment hoping that their recovery will be expedited by the double or triple dose. Some diseases are infectious. Unfortunately, health is not. They should try to make health also infectious.

I am not a serious person by nature. I cannot therefore be an advocate of serious sickness. I am talking about minor ailments, which are part of a healthy life. If you are feeling low, neglected by the family and friends, taken for granted by colleagues, my advice is contract a minor illness -- and sees the difference. It is good for your morale.

Tuesday, April 1, 2003

A Fable for our Times

A Fable for our Times
By Narendra Luther

Once upon a time, there was a wolf. He felt thirsty and went to the nearby stream to drink water. There he saw at a distance a lamb also drinking water. Suddenly he felt hungry. But he wanted to appear to be reasonable because the local panchayat had promulgated a rule that no one would be killed without due process. So, he went up to the lamb and asked him why he was polluting the water. The lamb replied meekly that he could not be doing so because he was drinking down stream while the wolf was drinking up stream. The wolf then thought of another ruse. He asked him why he had abused him last year. The lamb again replied respectfully that it could not be so because he was not even born then. At this insolence the wolf said, ’Well, if it was not you, then it must have been your mother’. Saying that, he pounced upon the lamb and ate it up in no time.

The wolf then sought the blessings of the Panchayat for his taking the law into his own hands. Some senior members of the Panchayat said what the wolf had done and was doing was not right. The wolf said the members did not know that the world had changed and that it must now listen to the wolf because he knew what was best for the animals. However, when the wolf sensed the mood of the majority of the members, he said that the subject need not be discussed. After all discussion was all talk. And talk was less important than work.

Earlier there used to be a bear and generally, if the wolf exhibited some overbearing trait, the bear would object and warn to him to behave. Lately, however, the bear had become unwell and had begun to depend upon the wolf even for its sustenance. But this time, he sent a message from his bed that he did not like what the wolf had started doing. An old fox and a cheetah whom the wolf had once mauled badly also joined in the protest. They all felt that the old world in which the wolf and the bear had always opposed each other was good for the other animals. But there was no point in moping about it.

We have all read the old nursery rhyme:
‘Mary had a little lamb whose fleece was white as snow
And every where that Mary went the lamb was sire to go.’
Not only that. Whatever Mary asked, the lamb was sure to do. Once Mary decided to fight a burly fellow who had annoyed him. The lamb joined him readily.

The fable and the nursery rhyme have come alive today. It does not require much imagination to identify the wolf and across the Atlantic, our little Mary’s Lamb. I write this on Day 6 of the campaign of the wolf and Mary’s Lamb against the lamb. The result seems to be a foregone conclusion but the tragedy must unfold itself in slow motion.

In one fell blow, the US has virtually sidelined the UN. It has mocked at world opinion. It says that no country should amass weapon of mass destruction. But that dictum does not apply to it. What is the use of being a super power if you are below the law like any other weakling? The sole super cop of the world needs to have weapons to discipline the anti-social elements. In George Bush’s Animal Farm, as in George Orwell’s, ‘All animals are equal. But some are more equal than others’.

No, the US has not merely sidelined the UN. It has buried it, like the League of Nations was. The international ‘social contract’, which first found expression in the League, and was later refined in the UN, has been scrapped. It has taken us back to the ‘state of nature’ where might was right. That was the primordial law of the jungle. That is the only practical basis on which life can be lived under the new order. The US has also thrown out the America dream of liberty, equality and the pursuit of happiness. Earlier it was held to be universal. Now it is only for the Americans. So out goes the UN, which embodied all these values. Time has now come for another world body to emerge from the ashes of the UN -- if it dares.

America, which attaches such importance to public opinion, has decided to experiment how far it can go in flouting it on international scale. There are protests all over the world. But people obviously do not know what is good for them. Mom used to know. Now since she is no longer there, Uncle Sam will tell them what is good for them. A grand coalition has been formed with Mary, its lamb, some foxes, and mice. They will all get their share of the carcass when the hunt is complete. Well that is the promise for now. But when once the hunt is complete, the hunter may want to go ahead to new grounds. After all the world is full of quarries if the hunter has the will and the weapons to go on.

They say America wants oil. Yes, it does. Who does not? But America professes loftier objectives. It wants to rid the world of the terrorists and replace the axis of evil with the axis of virtue so that every one can then pursue the American dream all over the world without having to go to America. A truly noble objective. So much in the interest of all of us. Shouldn’t we be grateful?


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Saturday, March 1, 2003

Which Party?

Which Party?
By Narendra Luther

Humans are social animals. They must live in groups to survive. Groups create
problems. In order to solve them they create parties. Parties are of two types. One is political.

Political parties come into being because man is a prejudiced being. Like-minded people get together and float a party. Once they join it, they see everything through a prism. Their objectivity, sense of fairness, and equity – become casualties. Political parties are popular because they relieve people of the necessity to think. That difficult task is handed over to some one else. How wonderful to have ready- made opinions handed over to you to pass them on as deep reflections of your own! Political parties have a problem for every solution. They will fight for finding other ways of reaching a place when a direct approach is available. God for them has one face, that of their own leader; truth, his utterance. Political parties often get into trouble when some men of conscience join them. A conscientious man suspects that the rival might be right. There is no place for such persons in a political party. Party men cannot afford to be in doubt. They must always assert that they are right. They should also be capable of saying the exact reverse of what their current opinion. That becomes necessary when they change parties. Abraham Lincoln as a young lawyer argued a case successfully in the morning. In the afternoon, he happened to have another case in the same court in which he gave arguments opposing what he had said in the morning. The judge asked him with a smile, ‘Mr. Lincoln, you are saying exactly the opposite of what you were saying in the morning’. Lincoln replied, ‘Your Honour, I might have been wrong in the morning, but I am definitely right in the afternoon’. He won that case too.

The other type of party is Cocktails. They have nothing to do with animals or birds as one might be led to imagine. They comprise humans of divers sexes—men women,
and people. They are held in the evenings and there is no saying how long they last. They are organized for various purposes – to willy-nilly welcome or to say farewell to some one, to celebrate an event, like marriage, birthday, or even a wedding anniversary. Strictly speaking, dinners should be given on such occasions, but cocktails parties are cheaper and more fun. Drinks of various types are served with snacks, which often make up for the lack of dinner. In a cocktail party, no one cares how bad your English is so long as your Scotch is good. After a while, a lot of bonhomie and good will is generated amongst the guests and every one tends to agree with the other. There are some spoil–sports or noveau- drinkers who will always disagree. Another drink is shoved into such hands and they are pushed to some equally garrulous person of the opposite sex. After a while either they both walk out or are too drunk to talk. So, one disagreement is resolved.

Cocktail party is designed to prevent concentration – either on a person or a topic. In a cocktail party, you are supposed to circulate. Some people complete their circulation too soon and come back to the same spot from where they started. That is bad manners. Your orbit is supposed to keep on varying unless the chief guest gets hold of you and wants to have a chat with you.

The host takes care to stay sober and to get the others sozzled, particularly those from whom he is trying to seek business or a favour. In non-business parties, the object is fun. But even there, you cannot prevent a discussion of politics or current events. As the spirits soar, the ability to solve intricate problems also improves. I have seen the Kashmir problem solved many times in such parties, the composition of the national cricket team decided upon, and alternatives offered to resolve the issue of Palestine, terrorism, and communalism. Iraq too has often been disposed of in a most harmonious way. There is generally consensus in such parties and everyone is fair to the other. Also, people are honest in the expression of their opinions about their friends. That sometime causes problems to sort out which another cocktail party becomes necessary. Even husbands are polite to their wives at such parties because nothing makes a woman look better than three cocktails inside a man. So, my advice to women is never to accept a compliment at a cocktail party at your face value. Men of my generation remember with envy the journalist who walked up to that stunner, Madeleine Dietrich and told her, ‘Madam you look as beautiful when sober, as any other woman would look when drunk’. Some over-drinkers are sad to get under the table. Mae West knew her limit. When offered another drink, she said coolly: ‘One more drink and I will be under the host’. But some men’s sense of truth is so strong that even cocktails can’t suppress it. Like when Churchill walked up to Lady Astor and told her bluntly: ‘You are ugly’. She retorted indignantly: ‘Winston, you are drunk’. Churchill slurred back: ‘Madam, I shall be sober when I wake up tomorrow morning, but you will still be ugly’.

I am a man of conscience. I can go astray temporarily. But I come back to the right track before too long. I am never cocksure; I am generally in doubt. That is why I have not joined any political party. For finding solutions to problems, I prefer to take a chance in a cocktail party.

Saturday, February 1, 2003

On Making Money

On Making Money
By Narendra Luther

Money has been called the root of all evil. But it is forgotten that the lack of it is the whole blooming tree. It is the most important thing in life. You have to have enough of it not to need it. Those who have it decry it; those who lack it moan for it.

There are various ways of making money, and none can advise you better than one who has not succeeded in making it can.

Conventional wisdom lays down one of the three ways: Beg, Borrow, or Steal. The seemingly easiest way to make money is to beg. There is a mistaken notion that beggars ply their trade only by standing and stretching their hand. The only honest beggars are those who do not make any pretensions about their intentions. They are masters of psychology. They wait at intersections and approach you when you are prevented by the red light to proceed further. They make you feel guilty and many can’t escape from that trap. Some beggars accost you when you have just emerged yourself from your secret begging from a place of worship. That is when one beggar stands face to face with another. It is difficult to go past the horde of beggars when they proclaim loudly that what you begged from the deity will be granted if you grant them their small prayer. It will be jeopardized if you don’t play god to them. The other place where they wait in ambush for you is when you emerge from a restaurant after a lavish meal. Whether you have been a guest or a host, the outstretched hand from a rag -covered body stirs your conscience. You calculate guiltily what small fraction of the amount spent inside by you the miserable beggar is asking for. A coin thrown into the lap of the waif will make you feel light.

Stealing is not free from risks. But there are various ways of stealing that need not make you fall foul of the law. An excess claim on a journey, inflating the conveyance charges or adding a non-existent guest to the list of prospects entertained -- all go into the making of the art of thievery.

Borrowing is quite common. A good number of standard reasons exist for making borrowing look entirely justified. A sudden need for travel to attend a family funeral, a tragic mishap to a beloved kin, a sudden illness which necessitates hospitalization. Anything which induces the milk of human kindness flow in the heart of the borrwee. Borrowers generally drop their benefactors from their list lest they should start pestering them for the repayment of an insignificant amount. They prefer dealing with people with short memory in money matters. Unfortunately, an average memory is sharpest in that respect.

Bribe is another easy way of making money. But for that it is necessary that you should have acquired some placement. Any position is good enough for taking bribes. But one has to take care that one is not caught in the act. Punishment is not for taking bribe, but for having been caught at doing that. So, a good measure of intelligence is necessary for taking bribes safely. Also, one should not be too greedy. Otherwise, one may go the way of the Chairman of the Public Service Commission of a certain State.

Making investments in stocks and bonds is another way of making money. That is what the sellers of stock will tell you believing that you will skip the small print which gives the statutory caution. That makes it somewhat exciting, like smoking which warns you that it is dangerous to health. So is racing, mountaineering, and even swimming. But they are not as dangerous as sleeping on a bedstead. More people in recorded history world-wide have died in their beds than anywhere else. Yet we persist -- sometime taking someone else also to our bed and thus expanding the scope of the danger involved. However, investments have to be made cautiously, that is putting as little of your money as possible. In this field, one has to know when to pull out. But there is no right time; only right luck. And that is not in your hands.

Lately, sports also have become good business. Time was when sportsmen played for the heck of it. Playing was more important than winning. Now you play to win – not the game but money. That is easy. Al that you have to do is to be a good player, but to play poorly. There are enough people to pay you for playing below par. That is specially so in cricket. Others sports are also learning from it. One reason cricket has overtaken – even killed all other sports is that there is more money in this for not playing well. But here too you have to take precautions. One is not to talk on cell phones. Technology betrays as much as it helps.

Another easy way is to marry a rich widow. That is the only case in which second hand goods sell at first hand prices. For women, the equivalent opportunity lies in becoming a mistress of a rich business man. It requires an instinct every woman is born with. Let a man chase you till you catch him. But then comes the tedious problem of keeping your quarry in your own net.

So far no one has discovered a sure-fire method of making money without getting sold to it. Money does not guarantee happiness, but every thing, which can possibly give happiness is bought by money – including charity and philanthropy. So, there is no escape from money. As for myself, I don’t much care for money if I can be rich without it. For, I agree with Sophia Tucker: ‘I have been rich, and I have been poor. Rich is better.’

Wednesday, January 1, 2003

A New Beginning

A New Beginning

By Narendra Luther

I share my first name with the chief Minister of Gujarat. But I don’t share his claim, his blame -- and now his fame. Nor do I have the inclination or the capacity to do so. For what he has achieved is based on fear, and numbers. Fear does not last. The extreme of fear is courage. When you have nothing further to lose, you stand up.

However, he has helped raise a basic question: Are we secular? As one who suffered the trauma of Partition as a child, I have a stake in secularism. The question often asked derisively is: what is secularism? It has been dubbed as plain non –concern about the majority community, or cynically equated with appeasement of the largest minority. There are lofty definitions of secularism, which are as old as the hills. As a working formula, Sarva Dharma Samabhava – equal respect for all religions can’t be improved upon. Democracy is based on the concept of equality of all persons. Once we accept that, caste, creed, colour -- all become irrelevant. Human being and his/her welfare is what matters. And that welfare is a common denominator cutting across the barriers of community and religion. For decades since Independence, we have heard the slogan of Roti, Kapda, and Makan – food, clothing, and shelter, and its generic substitute – Garibi Hatao. Now, food clothing and shelter have no religion. When I was a young child, at every station when the train stopped, vendors came shouting ‘Hindu Pani’, and Muslim Pani’. In our smugness, we took water from our respective communal pitchers, not knowing that it had come from a common source. It quenched thirst irrespective of who was dispensing it. Shylock, the much-maligned Jew speaks for the whole humanity in his spirited reply to Salerio in ‘The Merchant of Venice’:

‘He hath disgac’d me and hinder’d me half a million; laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies. And what is the reason? I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, affections, passions, fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that…. The villainy you teach me I will execute; and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.’

That about sums up the situation in Gujarat – and even in the rest of the country. In what respect are the members of different communities different from each other in their civic needs and wants? And politics is concerned only with the civic side of citizens. It is not – indeed should not concern itself with their private beliefs and faith. Note the last sentence of Shylock. They will retaliate. And retaliation may take different forms. If they are not conventionally equal in arms with the other, they will resort to guerilla warfare, as Sivaji did with Aurangzeb. The modern variation of that is terrorism. And you can’t fight terrorism unless you tackle its real causes and roots. The dharma –duty of a ruler is to ensure conditions of civilized existence for its subjects. That is the raison d’etre of the State. In that, the State cannot take a partisan stand. It cannot let groups of citizens settle their scores by taking law in their own hands. As Chief Minister, Modi had no religion, no attachment, and no consideration except the security of the citizens of Gujarat.

Gujarat underlines the tragic fact in our political life that we have been highlighting non-issues. What was the gaurava of Gujarat, which was brought in to drum up the passions of the people there? Gujarat’s gaurava is Mahatma Gandhi who laid down his life for communal amity. In Gujarat, every man is called Bhai and every woman a Behn irrespective of their community or religion. With such universal brotherhood, and sorority, a surprise so much blood shed should have take place there. But feud within families is generally far bloodier than normal warfare. Civil wars destroy more than external aggressions.

Having said that, I shall like to address the other side too. For too long have they gone on blaming the majority for all their ills. For too long have they gone on harping on their separate identity, which resulted in the creation of Pakistan. For centuries, they have ruled this country. Why did they become backward then? Why do they plead their backwardness as a reason for getting special treatment?? Who prevents them from removing their backwardness through education? The Constitution provides level playing field for all – plus special safeguards for minorities. As the case of Pakistan has shown, religion does not unite; language does not bond. If that were so, Bangladesh should not have come into being. We have to rise above language and religion. There is always scope – even need for reform. The impulse for that has to come from within.

Iqbal said ‘religion does not teach hatred. He was wrong. Four centuries ago, Dean Swift observed bitingly: We have enough of religion to hate one another, but not enough of it to love one another’. I am not sure whether we need more of it or less of it. Can’t we live just as plain human beings?


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