The Indian Churn

Ever since the Devas and Asuras churned the ‘Ksheerasaagaram’ (the ocean of milk) and found a lot of things – good and bad – India is associated with intellectual, social and political churn.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court cancelled the allocation of licenses made by the previous Telecom Minister for 2G spectrum. Several friends threw up their hands and fretted over the sanctity of the contracts signed with the Government of India. If the contracts had no sanction either in common law or written law, where is the sanctity left to protect? It requires some special chutzpah to go on record to state that the judgment was not an indictment of the UPA government, as the incumbent Telecom Minister has done.

This order of the Supreme Court too is worth studying. These orders may have short-term costs but they are vital for the long-term health of the nation.

India revised its GDP growth numbers for the previous three fiscal years. I am not that happy to recount here that I had warned of the risk of stagnation or decline in the savings rate at a guest lecture I made at the class of Dr. Sanjaya Baru at the National University of Singapore some time in early 2009. That is what came through in the GDP revisions. High fiscal deficit means that government savings are not there. Negative real interest rates are no big inducements for household savings. India and Indians are happy to see shopping malls constructed and frequented. Mindless aping of the West is the bane of a civilisational culture like India’s. India’s consumption share of GDP is already high enough. Perhaps, it is too high.

Indian household income and savings have to rise (think jobs, incomes, low inflation) for GDP growth to sustain. It is worth saying ad nauseam, ad infinitum. These words are not mine: consumption ought to be a consequence of economic growth and not the cause of economic growth. If it is the latter, you have indebted societies, broken homes, crimes and high stress. Think America today.

Only in a society that thinks that consuming more of everything is the goal of life can we have consumption driving growth. More over less puts quantity ahead of quality. Pits humans in an acquisitive competition with their friends, colleagues and neighbours. Makes humans choose instant gratification over delayed gratification. Puts the needs and desires of the present generation ahead of their inter-generational obligations.

India currently has the worst of both worlds – that of foreigners and that of its own foreign-born. As Ms. Madhu Kishwar said in her recent talks in Singapore, the British succeeded in destroying India by colonising our minds more than colonising our land. They destroyed our self-esteem. For all its faults, the NDA government did not do that. The UPA government set out to emulate the Britishers systematically with their doles, hand-outs and through the culture of enshrining people’s rights as opposed to responsibilities. Empowerment was out and enfeeblement was in. The cornerstone of official policy is not just enfeeblement of the Indian poor but enfeeblement of India.

A concerned Indian suggested recently that Prof. Amartya Sen could be more useful in his adopted homeland with all its present problems than in India. Many Indians would be grateful if he agreed with the suggestion. Then, the National Advisory Council could be disbanded. Many of the members of the UPA Government could return to their prior vocations and the country would not miss them. The Education Ministry comes to mind.

The Right to Education caps fees, reserves seats and disenfranchises private schools that do a better job of educating the poor than Government schools in India ever did or could ever hope to do so, so that Kyrgyzstan could push us to the last spot when our children’s mathematics and science skills are tested the next time. Perhaps, the Government missed out the verb in the ‘Right to Education’ bill.  It should have been labelled ‘Right to kill Education’. India’s demographic dividend is about to be squandered irreparably.

The rise and fall of the Indian cricket team mirror that of the Indian economy. So far, the verdict is that they do not have what it takes to stay at the top. They can get there by chance or by an occasional display of skill combined with luck. They have not invested in staying there at the top.

Taking pride in one’s achievements, in one’s history and heritage are the essential ingredients/investments on the journey to greatness. Forces within and without are working hard to make sure that Indians have neither pride nor awareness of their history, heritage and culture. That is the place to start.

(I must credit listening to Madhu Kishwar in the last week and my reading of Michel Danino’s ‘Indian Culture and India’s future’ for some of the thoughts conveyed in this post. More on Michel’s book later, perhaps in a separate post)

This post originally appeared at The Gold Standard and is posted with permission.