20.12.10

The Congress and the Common Man

The Congress is big on the common man. From chacha Nehru’s portrayal of the kindly uncle of the poor smelling of roses to Indira Gandhi’s ‘Garibi Hatao’ to Rajiv Gandhi’s STD booths in villages, it has realised the potential of the common man’s ability to stay in power. It would, however, be unfair to merely dismiss this one party for playing the ordinary bloke card.
The common man has been elevated because Indians have a penchant for poverty and fatalism. These two aspects are really a combination. The poor are not only fated to be poor but fatalism thrives on the poor. You don’t see rich people looking up at the skies for rain.

There has been a change, though. It was rather facetiously, and tellingly, spelled out in the phrase “mango people” – a literal translation of ‘aam aadmi’, the common man – in the very mainstream film ‘Love Aaj Kal’. The mango today is an expensive fruit and it has its hierarchies well in place; the mangoes that appear before season are the ones that have been nursed unnaturally. They are plumped up, made to shine, their shapes too have altered.

The people who keep this mango industry going are the mango people. It means that the economy of the well-fed is dependent on them but does not give them the fruits of their labour. They have been inducted into the devious plan of making a synthetic world, but they have to still sleep in the mud, the soil in their veins.

Sometime ago, Rahul Gandhi on his Bharat yatra took a British diplomat to one of the villages. He was criticised for it. His response was: “I don’t believe in hiding things I am proud of and I don’t believe in hiding the spirit of the poor. The difference between the Congress party and opponents… We are proud of the poor people of India. We believe in the poor people of India and they are ashamed of the poor in India.”

How can anyone be proud of the poor, especially when there is no respect for them? Now, he has come up with a definition of the ‘aam aadmi’. It is not restricted to the poor. ”Whether he is poor or rich, Hindu or Muslim, Sikh or Christian, educated or uneducated, if he is not connected to the system, he is an aam aadmi. A population unconnected to the growth engine is a wasted and unproductive resource.”

One might take the charitable view that this is a holistic attitude, but is it all about wasted resources and tangible growth? What does unconnected to the system mean and what does this system mean?

He has an answer: “He is the university topper in Shillong who can’t get a job because he doesn’t know the right people; he is the farmer in Aligarh who doesn’t get the price he deserves for his land.”

He forgets to delve into the insurgency in the North East that makes this topper and his family sometimes have to wait for food because the highway has been closed. He forgets to talk about farmer suicides because he helped one Kalavati.

It is rather convenient to paint the whole common man credo with one brush. He had mentioned a while ago: “I personally don't believe in caste system. I go to a human being's house and not a Dalit's house. The frame of Dalit is your frame, not mine...I ask my office to arrange for my visit to a poor person's home in the poorest village. You see him as a Dalit, I see him as a poor person.”

So, his office arranges it. The ‘system’ arranges it. It might surprise him but in the poorest village why would anyone specifically ask for a poor person’s house? There won’t be many rich people in such villages and if they were he would finish off any goodwill he has if he ate his meal with a zamindar. Is he going to deny that the Dalits would constitute a large number of poor and they are poor precisely because they are Dalits?

What does he mean when he says the common man “has immense capabilities, intelligence and strength; he builds this country every day of his life, yet our system crushes him at every step”? I know he will be applauded for it, and in a Munnabhai kind of way his statements are worthy of a ‘jadoo ki jhappi’ (a magic hug), but one cannot ride the magic carpet on homilies.

He talks about the common man’s progress, but it is directionless. It is particularly ironical when he says it is “based not on who he knows but on what he knows”. Indeed, it is convenient for one who has inherited bon mots and power to speak in this manner. And why must there be pressure on the common man to 'know’? We have many ignorant people who play an important role to “build the nation” and are not crushed by the system. Why is it so?

This sort of romanticisation is worse than the dramatic use of slums and filth. The onus is on the person with capabilities and strength. The system that crushes is never defined. Is it not the government? Is it not the judiciary? Is it not society? By hanging this sword of Damocles, he has mythified the system and more so the common man.

17 comments:

  1. A gourmet is someone who appreciates good food; a "gourmand" on the other hand is just plain greedy and/or a glutton.

    I pick this nit, because I find no other nit to pick. I actually loved your article on the common man. Al I have to say on the topic is that the common man is no more/less intelligent or capable. In fact the common man is not an archetype. In simple words, those who can rise out of the mire, are all those who deserve to, either because of their talents or their ancestor's. Evolution is cruel but I think its the only way to fly

    - KM

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  2. Farzana,
    Rahul Gandhi *almost* spelt it - when he hinted at the large part of population un-connected with the "System". The "System" here is the Market. Market for goods, commodities , labour et al. Several years back - a TOINS columnist, Rajni Kothari (if I remember correctly) commenting on India's liberalisation efforts under Dr. Manmohan Singh , the FM then, rhetorically commented that the people needed Market but does the Market need people ? Which People ? We are back a full circle with Rahul Gandhi posing similar question. Except that, Rahul Gandhi sounds and is more establishmnentarian than Mr. Kothari.
    This said, the liberalisation has had some co-lateral damage on the poverty , un-intendedly. But then the bigger underlying question is whether we should rely just on the randomness and chancy nature of "co-lateral damage" , aka "the Markets" and moreover, for whom ?
    Btw, since you mentioned Nehru - hate him as much you like but his policies were definitely *planned* towards materialisting betterment of masses - a pragmatic deviation from the free market fundametalism that could've spelt disaster for country like us during his period.
    Cheers,
    Mahesh.
    p.s.: Have a nice week ahead.

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  3. FV, Mahesh, Thanks for the thoughts.

    Here is just another view....

    Mahesh: "But but does the Market need people ? Which People ?"

    Mahesh, I think you are looking at the market very narrowly, and are missing the crucial part of the "market" that is missing in India, and that space has been taken up by the billionaire industrialists so far.

    I do not fully understand what Dr. MMS's economic policy is, because I do not see any improvement in productivity outside of the private sector, and the UPA 1 and 2 have both completely put the brakes on disinvestment, leaving large parts of the Indian economy still under the control of the Politicians and bureaucrats.

    Only the areas where the politicians and bureaucrats are too incompetent to operate sees significant private activity, such as science and technology. And even here, rather than invest in Indian investors, this government buys telecom and network switches from India's worst enemies, the Chinese. Who knows what trojan horses lays hidden in chinese technology that will bite us down the line? Does Kapil Sibal Care? I don't think so.

    The Indian economy seems to be doing well only because of the enourmous amount of foreign exchange from the Indian NRIs that work in the "Gelf" and elsewhere (I think the highest contribution is from the NRIs in Gulf states currently), and so the ballooning of the hard cash in the Indian exchequer is not just because of activity in the Indian economy alone by a long shot. NRIs pour billions of dollars/riyals into the Indian coffers every year.

    Mahesh:"But then the bigger underlying question is whether we should rely just on the randomness and chancy nature of "co-lateral damage" , aka "the Markets" and moreover, for whom ? "


    I think it is important to always acknowledge the fact that India is not really a free country in terms of equal economic opportunity.


    -Al

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  4. Farzana, Mahesh, (continuing previous post)

    It irritates and annoys me that the Indian constitution says not just "India is a Sovereign Republic" but "India is a Sovereign Socialist Republic", which by definition means the politicians and bureaucrats are going to be defining when and how any Indian can insert themselves into the Indian economy.

    In order for the "markets" to do good to the public, there must be enormous room for individual innovation and entrepreneurship to create new products that create new "markets" that did not exist previously -- the "web" is one such example of a new sector of significant economic activity. That is how a handful of people create wealth and jobs out of "thin air" --as it were -- jobs and prosperity are the result of ideas and innovation.

    A handful of really motivated, hard-working, and clever people join hands to build "a better mousetrap" with their company NoCheeseTrap Inc., then their entire time must be focussed on the really hard task of implementing the ideas they came up with. The hard part here is that there is an enormous gap between theory and practice, that is filled by creativity on a daily basis, for years on end. Imagine doing this in a system where you can't sneeze without having enough cash to cut a bribe to someone to "grease the wheels of bureaucracy and politics" -- there is simply no way for an Indian to achieve this unless he/she starts off with a large amount of cash in hand from the first step.

    This is exactly why the Birlas, Tatas, and Ambanis and assorted Family-run empires continue to make inroads in EVERY economic sector in India without any problem. They are the only people who have the money to do business the way ALL indian government seems to like to do business in India.

    -Al

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  5. The rich industrialists finance the elections of the coffers of all political parties, and the political parties cannot win the next election if people like Dr. MMS do not wink at crimes happening under their nose. Dr. MMS is every bit of a willing accessory to the crimes committed by A. Raja, by the textbook definition of "accessory to a crime", which includes knowing about a crime in progress and turning a blind eye to it. My wager is that 20 years from now, it will still be the tatas, birlas and ambanis that will be having a hand in a large part of the indian economy --- crony capitalism at work.

    The problem in India is that there is no "market" other than what these industrialists are willing to invest in, not least because only these rich people can afford to deal with the Indian political and bureaucratic system. A lack of piles of money acts as a barrier to the average Indian entrepreneur who may want to innovate and participate in the economy.

    This is especially terrible as there is precious time being lost as Indians in their 20s and 30s today try to strike it out on their own and we can be assured that their only hope to becoming rich is to focus on something that the Ambanis of India will not be interested in or smart enough to think of, and the bureaucrats too ignorant to know how to interfere.

    All other avenues are already closed to these young Indians in our CronyCapitalist-Socialist economic system.

    -Al

    PS: Not happy to be harsh on this PM, but his complete silence the past months even as all hell is breaking loose in the country completely unnerves me. This is not how the leadership of a nation of a billion people is supposed to behave. But then "remote control is as remote control does".

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  6. The Congress(Indira) faction seems to have usurped the name "Indian National Congress" which got India Independence -- this termite-infested Congress(I) is not even a shadow of the original Indian National Congress. The name change is purely to fool the voters.

    http://im.rediff.com/news/2010/dec/14sonia1.jpg

    -Al

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  7. Hi Kartik:

    I was waiting for someone to pop the question! You have seen it quite literally (my profile for those who don't know what's happening here)...the words gourmet and gourmand are interchangeable, but the latter does also denote the enjoyment of what is on offer. Let us just say that while a gourmet gets tickled, the gourmand goes all the way.

    Thanks for giving the common man the thumbs up, though rest assured s/he would prefer to be in your shoes. That's evolution, too.

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  8. Mahesh,Al:

    Much appreciate the discussion. Takes the load off me! Seriously, I think the queries you have posed, Mahesh, have been taken forward by Al (though it can get argumentative!) and I concur with much of what is said.

    Just one point regarding whether the market needs people. The market has robotised human endeavour and, strangely enough, this applies to the common man as well as the one using her/his services. Both get dehumanised - one by becoming the goal that is sought to be achieved e.g. achievers becoming brands; the other has become trained to expect nothing more than what is set as a target/task. The worker becomes the assembly line product.

    Wrt, Nehru's 'planned' development, hindsight reveals that it just batted for a handful. The masses became marginalised.

    PS: For Mahesh, have a good mid-week ahead...I see you are getting slack :)

    PPS: For Al, can you keep all those lovey-dovey pictures of Soniaji for the weekend?!

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  9. "he other has become trained to expect nothing more than what is set as a target/task. The worker becomes the assembly line product. "

    Farzana, In the context of the above statement, I think it needs to be acknowledged that different people want different things out of life, e.g., Some people are entirely happy to do a 9-5 job and other like to run a business and so on, as individual capability matters in order to be successful in whatever choice is made by the common man.

    I guess my point is that, since there is already a large variation in what people expect out of life, it could be posited that a free market, if such a thing existed, will create life that expects variety and variation in the common man's life expectations and skill set. But in order to create a diverse workforce out of a legion of common men, they need to have an education that values critical thinking and an independent mind.

    But most societies usually mistakenly assume that their prosperity is a product of their "culture" (Many people in the USA still credit their "christian heritage" for the USA's current global status...and many other americans feel otherwise, too).

    In India, we have temples for RajaniKanth, Silk Smitha (RIP), Khushboo, in addition to the millions of "real bonafide religions" that simplistically view living as following a list of morals derived from mythology.

    -Al

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  10. This is Kapil Sibal's statement today:

    "As far as policy is concerned, the telecom ministry has already initiated action, while the CBI is probing the criminal culpability, if any. "

    In other news, A. Raja just made a statement to the press that he is no longer afraid of anyone, which can only mean that all the documents that are needed as evidence against them have been destroyed by the CBI.

    In yet other news, a witness to the Ruchika murder case in New Delhi claims that the CBI modified his statement to them. Nothing new -- we all know that the CBI is "on the payroll" of the ruling government of the day.

    What a great country we live in.

    -Al

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  11. Al,
    Sorry for a late response. Was under the gun to deliver for a scheduled Client demo and hence couldn't respond.
    OK, at the outset - I will be little harsh with some of the arguments you have made and I strongly disagree with. Nothing personal. But I guess that's what debate is about, right ?
    OK - on to your arguments...
    You said :
    "Mahesh, I think you are looking at the market very narrowly, and are missing the crucial part of the "market" that is missing in India, and that space has been taken up by the billionaire industrialists so far."
    So, are we talking about monopolistic aggregation happening in the Market ? If so, how different is the Process in West ? To put your comment in perspective - have you missed the evolution of Indian Markets arrested and subsequently re-shaped by (British) imperialism ?
    "I do not fully understand what Dr. MMS's economic policy is, because I do not see any improvement in productivity outside of the private sector, and the UPA 1 and 2 have both completely put the brakes on disinvestment, leaving large parts of the Indian economy still under the control of the Politicians and bureaucrats."
    A generic Rant. BTW, can you please substantiate your argument about "brakes on divestment / disinvestment by UPA 1 and UPA 2 "? My anecdotal observations suggest otherwise.
    "Only the areas where the politicians and bureaucrats are too incompetent to operate sees significant private activity, such as science and technology. And even here, rather than invest in Indian investors, this government buys telecom and network switches from India's worst enemies, the Chinese. Who knows what trojan horses lays hidden in chinese technology that will bite us down the line? Does Kapil Sibal Care? I don't think so."
    Now, Al, we are talking specifics here. Why single out Chinese for their switches ? Why not Americans for their Desktop and Server Operating Systems ? Or Speech Recognition Software or .... well never mind - the list can be pretty long here. And yes, what makes you pick Chines on India's worst enemies ? Trying to understand your reasoning here.
    "The Indian economy seems to be doing well only because of the enourmous amount of foreign exchange from the Indian NRIs that work in the "Gelf" and elsewhere (I think the highest contribution is from the NRIs in Gulf states currently), and so the ballooning of the hard cash in the Indian exchequer is not just because of activity in the Indian economy alone by a long shot. NRIs pour billions of dollars/riyals into the Indian coffers every year."
    Well, depends on which Geography and Sector you are looking at. Realty , Financial Markets have been affected and pumped up by
    NRI money. But then that is not the entoire sector. And , again, have you ever checked the percentage of money repatriated against the total GDP ?
    "I think it is important to always acknowledge the fact that India is not really a free country in terms of equal economic opportunity."
    Preceisely - the opportunties are very much skewed against the under-classes in India. That's the reasoning behind the rant - Does the Market need people ? Which People ?
    Cheers,
    Mahesh.
    P.S. : More to follow in subsequent response.

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  12. Mahesh:

    There has been no other response, so am not sure whether you posted or did not. I mention this because there were multiple comments and I only hope something else was not deleted.

    Happy holidays.

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  13. Farzana,
    Glad to see my response made it to your blogpost. Had run into browser error after the first post - and felt a little too lazy / dejected to re-write and re-post. Other posts on the topic follow.
    Cheers,
    Mahesh.

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  14. Al (continuing further...),
    You said :
    "It irritates and annoys me that the Indian constitution says not just "India is a Sovereign Republic" but "India is a Sovereign Socialist Republic", which by definition means the politicians and bureaucrats are going to be defining when and how any Indian can insert themselves into the Indian economy. "
    But then, Al, Socialism is not just about Politicans and bureaucrats defining economic future. That said - we do have some "un-resolved yet" arguments about Socialism. Historically, we have witnessed Socialism degenerating into concentration of power in the hands of privileged few. The International communist movement did try to address - atleast at theoretical level - by stressing on "Democratic Centralism". On the other with free markets too - history has shown us the necessity of State intervention. Latest turn of events in International Finance included. That said - quite seriously, we don't know what shape and form the wisdom about managing economic affairs will evolve , say, about three hundred years down the line.
    You said :
    "In order for the "markets" to do good to the public, there must be enormous room for individual innovation and entrepreneurship to create new products that create new "markets" that did not exist previously -- the "web" is one such example of a new sector of significant economic activity. That is how a handful of people create wealth and jobs out of "thin air" --as it were -- jobs and prosperity are the result of ideas and innovation. "
    Actually, me thinks a bit differently here. Web penetration , in India, is not as much as cellular telephony. OK, agreed, that both the technologies play a complementary role.
    Secondly, A large chunk our population is still dependant Farm sector for it's daily earnings. This - IMHO - is the sector that needs to be targetted for giving it adequate finance and market access, or even economic stimulus.

    I guess - the gist of our differences lies in what we see as contributing factors towards increasing the Market and Market access to the under-privileged so that they can sell their services and goods. Underlying assumption here being - Markets are the most efficient way for spreading wealth. An assumption - that has been questioned time and again in recent and not so recent pasts. Another aspect you have overlooked is the utter absence or very weak "Social Safety Net" - that has been a crucial factor as well in industrialised Nations. Third point is about the nature of international finance itself - which has been so influential in boosting consumer spending in select economies.

    Cheers,
    Mahesh.

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  15. PART 2 of MY RESPONSE
    Al (continuing further...),
    You said :
    "It irritates and annoys me that the Indian constitution says not just "India is a Sovereign Republic" but "India is a Sovereign Socialist Republic", which by definition means the politicians and bureaucrats are going to be defining when and how any Indian can insert themselves into the Indian economy. "
    But then, Al, Socialism is not just about Politicans and bureaucrats defining economic future. That said - we do have some "un-resolved yet" arguments about Socialism. Historically, we have witnessed Socialism degenerating into concentration of power in the hands of privileged few. The International communist movement did try to address - atleast at theoretical level - by stressing on "Democratic Centralism". On the other with free markets too - history has shown us the necessity of State intervention. Latest turn of events in International Finance included. That said - quite seriously, we don't know what shape and form the wisdom about managing economic affairs will evolve , say, about three hundred years down the line.
    - Mahesh.
    P.S.: PART 3 OF THE RESPONSE FOLLOWS THIS.

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  16. Farzana,
    Have re-posted part of my last response as browser errored out again. Now that the response has appeared in full, you may feel free to delete the re-post.
    Thanks,
    Mahesh.

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  17. Thanks, Mahesh, I figure it's all in place now and sorry about the error on the blog.

    Good to see such analysis and shall wait for Al to appear.

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