Sunday, June 24, 2012

The panting & trundling Indian Elephant

It was in April this year when economic advisor, Kaushik Basu’s statement about Policy Paralysis stirred a storm. The ruling UPA government crippled by the very dharma of coalition was in no mood to take responsibility for the messed up state of affairs. An obvious aftermath of the Kaushik’s hullabaloo was the retracting from his statement in a bid to pacify the opposition. The cat had however already slipped out of the bag.

After all the melodramatic series of scams being unearthed looked desperately for a vent to give expression to the pessimistic notion. Markets and economy for that matter is solely not only the game of numbers, both in fact have a bearing with sentiment too. The sordid trail of humongous embezzlements of the public exchequer, the Adarsh scam, CWG scam, and the mother of all scandals the 2G scam and its evil twin, the Nira Radia tapes slapped the economy like anything. One of the immediate impacts of such national embarrassment is the hesitation of institutional investors. Scams and that too with such stupendous velocity and volume reflect loopholes in governance and the growing environment of volatile markets does not form the trading universe of any wise man on this earth!

And thus the not-so-favorable Global Financial Integrity report 2011 rustled just a few leaves as the other disasters followed soon. Did someone just say GDP and the related fiscal deficit? How much I wished a tenner out of my pocket would have rewarded that contention! These are dangerous times of inflation you see!

There are strongly opinionated individuals who believe that Pranab Da is best suited for Raisina Hills as his performance in the North Block as Finance Minister has turned out to be an abysmal one. This was more than evident when the fiscal deficit of India (the excess money spent by government with respect to its income) amounted to 5.7% of the gross domestic product (GDP) in 2011-2012. Soaring expenditure coupled with lower tax collections have led to this acute crisis. The government intends to limit the fiscal deficit to 5.1% of GDP in 2012-2013 by initiating control over the subsidy bill. This isn’t going be that easy for some disturbing figures are here to steal the sleep of Mr. Mukherjee’s successor. Under the aegis of the subsidy bill the government has already incurred Rs. 68,481 crores in 2011-2012 on oil subsidy as against Rs. 38,371 crores in 2010-2011.

Dismal GDP growth of 5.3% in the first quarter of 2012, which was the lowest in the last nine years paved way for the climax when credit rating agencies swung into action. “BRIC’s Fallen Angel” that’s how Standard & Poor chose to address the problem. Everything was pinpointed in blunt terms – right from slowdown in government decision making to archaic land acquisition laws to even mentioning the impediments being imposed on the ambitious investment of $ 12 billion by Korean steel maker company, POSCO. Ingenuousness ruled the roost as fingers were pointed as the sole power being vested with Sonia Gandhi who in reality held no cabinet position and our able Prime Minister being reduced to a stooge.  

PMS (acronym for our endearing PM Manmohan Singh) came into the savior mode for sure on June 4th as he came forth with the 40-point solution at the CWC (Congress Working Committee) meeting. All eyes are now set at the infrastructure reforms that the government seems to push through in the sectors of coal, power, railways, highways, ports and urban development including the Metro. Many of these projects hinged on the PPP (public private partnership) model are facing bottlenecks currently on several fronts. With even FICCI pressurizing the Center to come up with stern reforms, it would be worth watching how the stalled projects are escalated in times to come.

For the time being the FB page of Dr. Manmohan Singh seems to be providing with oodles of hope as he seeks support from all political parties (a statement that followed soon after his return from G+20, Mexico and Rio+20, Brazil). Hope that turns out to be a juncture of enlightenment for obstreperous ally like TMC (Trinamool Congress). Come on Mamta Di the entire country waits for your haan (yes) over the issue of FDI in multi-brand retail!

Then what about the triumphant Indian elephant that was being touted to lead the entire world? Is it panting and trundling already? At least the bearish ratings of Moody’s and Fitch fromstable to negative seem to suggest so. One’s mind however drifts to the days when there were stories galore about India’s demographic dividend. A nation might be spilling over with productivity in terms of labor (skilled labor is still a matter of concern though) but snail-paced economic growth puts a lid on all those positive vibes. An enfeebled rise of 0.1% in IIP (Index of Industrial Production) in April after a contraction of 3.2% in March goads the government to come up with NMP (National Manufacturing Policy) – if one vows by it then NMP in a bid to boost the manufacturing sector aims to create 100 million jobs in the coming decade. Experts are already declaring it as political fantasy on the lines of Great Leap Forward (marvelous reforms introduced in the Chinese economy from 1958-1961).

In these times of stagflation perhaps we should wait for India’s gilded age (a period in the US between 1865-1900 marked by high growth and high corruption) to come to an end. ‘R’ shall not definitely spell out for ‘R’BI cuts in interest rates but perhaps would lead to leadership of a President like ‘R’oosevelt who pulled an entire country from the shackles of purblind folly of therich men in 1901. Unblinking gaze of the public shall at the moment follow every movement of another ‘R’ – the Race Course Road.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Amritsar – Mrs. Gandhi’s Last Battle

(Viewpoints based on book)

Events imbued with the potency to change the face of mankind are often preceded by occurrences that reek of the inevitable. One can say this with conformity in the context of instances such as the Operation Blue Star, 1984. For some especially the Sikhs the world never remained the same and ascertaining their identity became a raging question ever since.

Amritsar – Mrs. Gandhi’s Last Battle authored by Mark Tully and Satish Jacob tracks moments of trepidation when the Indian state took stand against men of its own origin. Beant Singh and Satwant Singh the two bodyguards of Indira Gandhi had not only fired several bullets into her body their misdeed in fact was to snowball into a catastrophe of humongous proportions. Block-32, Trilokpuri was one such locality in Delhi that had to bear the brunt of harboring the Sikh population in hordes, which became the site of genocide at the hands of the rioters. Rahul Bedi a reporter of the Indian Express became a witness to the human slaughter lasting for almost 30-hours that ensued after Indira’s assassination. Figures are dreadful indeed with around 2717 people killed in anti-Sikh riots, among them 2150 had died in Delhi alone. As many as 50,000 Sikhs had fled from Delhi to Punjab in a bid to save their families from the wrath of the henchmen of Congress.

The environment also plays an important role when such vicious machinations are played out. The ambience just before Operation Blue Star was marked by the effort of Mrs. Gandhi to consolidate the Hindu vote bank, a sort of ‘revivalism’ if one may specify it. This was a unique thought in the wake of the fact that Congress had always harped on the minority support mainly the Muslims and the Dalits post independence. That the circumstances thereafter didn’t ascribe to Mrs. G’s aspirations unfolded in one of its crude forms.

Before one becomes acquainted with other characters of the story it is important to understand the basic tenets of Sikhism. The word Sikh means ‘disciple’ with the religion being firmly rooted in the teachings of its ten gurus, the first among them being Guru Nanak. Sikhism has a lot to do with Mysticism and is in fact a cautious combination of the good from Islam as it rests its belief on Monotheism; at the same it draws inspiration from Hinduism in espousing the belief of reincarnation and karma. For instance the very idea of Guru ka langar is an attempt to do away with the caste system prevalent in the community of Hindus. Perhaps it was with such conviction that the foundation of this religion was laid that even after forty years of Nanak’s death his followers continued to emerge as a group with a distinct identity. It was during the reins of Akbar that the Golden Temple came up in the city of Amritsar; Akbar was well-known for religious tolerance and giving space to each sect on that front. Trouble began when Jahangir locked horns with the fifth guru, Arjun Singh. The Akal Takht or the Eternal Throne inside the Golden Temple owes its origin to the efforts of Hargobind, the youngest son of Arjun Singh. Hargobind gifted the Sikhs with the tool of 5-Ks (kes, kangha, kada,kach and kirpan) that has helped this group of brave-hearts retain their individuality ever since.

That was 1699 when spat with Jahangir had happened and after that it was in 1984 when the Sikhs truly sensed an encroachment into their regime of faith and belief. Sikhs also look up to the contribution made by Maharaja Ranjit Singh who not only led an impressive army but also helped in setting up Amritsar as the center of trade, not to forget his crucial monetary contribution to the Golden Temple. The terrain was soon to be dominated with the fervor of the Gurudwara Movement (1920-1925) which in the backdrop of the Jallianwala massacre gained ground with enormous speed. This agitation also aimed to get rid of the malpractices and the corrupt mahants that ruled the roost in gurudwara in those days. The outcome was the induction of two prominent institutes that represent the contention of the Sikhs even today – the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee and the Akali Dal.

Even the Punjabi Suba Movement led by Master Tara Singh from 1947 till 1964 could not yield substantive results for some of the extreme Akali elements. Indira Gandhi once again succumbed to her way of dealing with the senior members of the rebellious Congress left behind by her father. Those conniving notions of Politics yielded to the Punjab Settlement and the emergence of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. Did the problems of the Akalis come to an end with this chapter? Not really!

Riding high on the populist notions of its people is the dream of any regional party and the Akali Dal was missing out terribly on this. It was this desperateness to cash on an issue which saw the Akali Dal Working Committee coming forth with the Anandpur Sahib Resolution in 1973. Few were far-sighted enough to realize that the insertion of stubborn demands into this resolution would be put to good use by the second lead, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.

As Bhindranwale took charge of the Damdami Taksal (missionary school for Sikhs), his soon-to-be bĂȘte noire Indira was looking for means to deal with the 1977 electoral defeat.  It was on the suggestion of Zail Singh, a Congress patriot that Sanjay Gandhi’s attention befell on Bhindranwale who had the ability to create fissures in the Akali Dal. Jarnail Singh’s outrageous call in 1978 to act as an impediment to the Nirankari Convention in Amritsar was the first example of the unbelievable audacity of this religious guru. Another ploy unfolded soon in the form of floating of the Dal Khalsa party on behalf of the Congress to aid Bhindranwale however the man himself denied claims of any association with the party.

It was a series of murders that made the situation more chaotic – the first one was that of Baba Gurbachan Singh (24, April 1980) of the Nirankari sect; the second victim of bullet shots was Lala Jagat Narain (9, Sep 1981) proprietor of ‘Punjab Kesari’ a broadsheet which was seemingly acerbic about Bhindranwale and his staunch viewpoint. As the wave of grave dissent began to blanket the atmosphere Bhindranwale was arrested on 20th September only to be released soon afterwards due to lack of evidence.  In the time that elapsed until 1983 all the labors on part of the Center to resolve the conflict went in vain, only the worse could have ensued with the voice of Akali Dal’s leader Longowal being replaced with the thunderous discourses of Bhindranwale who had started challenging Mrs. Gandhi openly by proclaiming. President’s rule in Punjab in 1983 was followed by the initiation of Operation Blue Star on 5th June, 1984. Men in uniform once again made their way into the holy shrine and in the confrontation that lasted for 48-hours even the Akal Takht with shells of the Vijayanta tank inducted into it, became an evidence of the friction between the radical ideas of one man and the State.

In an interview to the BBC during his lifetime, Bhindranwale talks about freedom of the Sikhs from the shackles of slavery. If indeed this was the noble idea behind kick starting am armed struggle against one’s own country then what was ‘that’ which came our way on August 15, 1947? As for Mrs. Gandhi she simply endured the wrath of flame that she believed shall emblazon her empire for another decade or so. Religion and Politics are inseparable in India however what disappoints the modernist is the implementation of ideas of the old school of thought even today. Rajaona and the related debate seem to be the manifestation of this archaic and shrewd center of power.