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Friday, April 14, 2017


Disclaimer: This bit of writing is humour (the quality of being amusing or comic, especially as expressed in literature or speech) and therefore, it need not be taken seriously. The name of Gandhi occurs once or twice in the writing but he is not the butt of any joke. My respect for him is no less than any other person on this planet. The joke is on me, poor voter. I do not intend to mock, insult,ridicule, deride , or make fun of or otherwise show in poor light any person dead, living, or yet unborn. I respect the rights of human beings. I uphold the rights of animals as well. In short I give no offence; I am not capable of giving any offence.It is not my purpose to cast any aspersion on any religion, superstition, fad, fashion, trend, custom, movement, hair style, style of dress, or rail against any ideology, philosophy, scientific theory, and hypothesis .I have firm faith in democracy, I am not an enemy of Marxism; capitalism does not bother me because I do not bother capitalism.
I am a meat eater but if prohibited I will make do with vegetables. I love my occasional single malt but when restrained by law I seek solace in the Rubaiyyats of Omar Khayyam, reading them aloud to myself to recreate the pleasures of the fabled elixir.I believe in universal peace and love yet I am not unduly affected if Syria is bombed or there is calm in Crimea. I live in peaceful co existence with crime syndicates, corporate fraudsters, buccaneering bureaucrats, hoarders, adulterers. I pay lip service to the poor and am keen to mingle with those who are my better off. I pay my taxes, I cast my vote. I am a helpless citizen who babbles in his helplessness, hoping to reach some other kindred spirit.
I have tried to make my purpose clear in writing this piece, to the best of my ability ,and yet if I manage to convey something else, at the very outset, I tender unreservedly, and without any hesitation, an unqualified apology to my would be tormentors, to my trolls, rabble rousers, hecklers, friends who do not give a tosh for my views, foes who think it is all crap and faceless jokers who always have another point of view.
The humorous bit begins from here.( Statutory warning : Adult Content)
“Usually unreliable sources tell me that an independent member’s bill to make celibacy mandatory for all Indians, irrespective of their age and gender is under the consideration of an august body. It proposes to ban sex for people of all ages, save and except for the purposes of procreation, and for people above eighty, for the purposes of recreation. Those who have had a peek at the draft tell me that it is one of the most progressive documents, free from any bias of caste, community or gender, free from any traces of misogyny and patriarchy. The objective states that prohibition, (in certain states, but hopefully every other state will follow) ban on the consumption of beef and cow slaughter (exceptions are some states for electoral purpose) reflect the commitment of the Indian state to follow Gandhian edicts. With the legislation of celibacy the dream of universal Brahmcharya will be fulfilled .And what better occasion than to pay this tribute to the Father of the Nation than in the year of his centenary celebration; the political consensus suggests that they are all agreed that the cumulative economic effect of these moves will automatically reduce every Indian into wearing only loin cloth, the dress sanctified by Gandhi Jee.
Many a law maker who were at a loss as what to ban next jumped with joy when this bill was tabled and there was much warmth and hugging across the party lines. “What use is power if you do not have the power to prohibit or dictate or interfere with the life of a billion people and more in the most intrusive way?”a law maker told me. He even boasted that if a law was made today, prohibiting certain bodily functions, “you could do precious little. You would have gone to hell in a hand cart by the time remedy was available by way of a court order.” I dared not dare him. What they do – and what they are capable of doing – was fresh in my mind.” Humorous bit ends. JAI HIND

Friday, December 2, 2016

Black Men , White Money

The decision to demonetize the big denomination notes has shown the mirror to our society and the sooner we accept the fact that the hideous face staring ominously at us is US, the better would it be. The mirror does not lie, so we cannot seek comfort in denial which has been the standard mode of coping with uncomfortable truths. At heart we are a deeply, incorrigibly corrupt society made doubly worse by our ingrained hypocrisy.  The predisposition to be corrupt   is fixed like an attribute fixed in our genes. This masked trait unfolds given a favourable environment. 
People are ignorant and indifferent, people are resistant to mobilization and sustained activism and even though carpet baggers like Kejariwal have cheated them, they have shown a great appetite for radical measures to curb corruption and black money. So an attack on black money was on the national agenda. In fact, the tardiness of this government on this score so far  was a favourite taunt of those in the opposition, till  the government  went ahead  and  did  something and got itself nicely in tangles.
Now it is idle to talk about the mismanagement; it is written  all over . The government does not have at its command the kind of pool of talent required to execute a radical programme like this. (War mongers please take note!). But let us examine our own role in the in the developing crisis which, make no mistake, will leave no one untouched. Are we part of the solution or are  we aggravating the problem created by many logistical infirmities? Political parties have become so myopic that they are blind to anything beyond their selfish interest. Unashamedly all of them will, given the opportunity, make the national cause sub serve their own partisan interests. They are fishing in the troubled waters with great delight and anticipation. In another variation of the Chinese who burned down his house to roast a pig, they will pay any price to see Modi impaled.
Corruption has been a trapping of power throughout the ages. The rich and powerful generally live in a state of sin. The king and his courtiers have different rules of morality.  It is the poor and the middle class to whom traditionally the role of remaining honest has been assigned. The current crisis is that a large body of people have lost their purity. It is as if we have been hit by a moral blight. A corrosive cynicism has eroded not only our self belief, but our faith in the entire array of institutions.
  Consider the evidence: we hear that around one lac crores of rupees have found their way to the Jan Dhan accounts. At the rate of Rs 2- 2.5 lacs per account, between four and  five million of our poorest people have lent their names, either out of sheer altruism or for some commission, to hoarders to dissipate and disguise ownership of black money. Overnight a programme that was intended to unearth hoarders of black money has created 5 million amateur money launderers. The professional class, doctors, civil servants, salaried class in general petty bureaucrats whoever had illegal cash hoardings utilised every avenue to parcel and park their funds. Whatever remained was taken care of by professional money changers and C A’s etc. So along with the poor there goes the solid old middle class.
The government, thrown on the back foot, by its own unpreparedness was forced to make concessions. It adopted a slew of emergency measures to help those most in need. Every one of these arrangements was criminally misused by large numbers of people which again may run in millions. People clogged the ATMs and banks trying to drive the maximum advantage by cheating the system and cheating each other. How many ATMS are there in the country?  Most of them have been used to cheat the system.Many bankers have used IDs procured in wholesale to launder money. They are also said to have kept aside huge sums of money for their clients thereby affecting equitable distribution of scarcity. Railway officials,post office employees , utility companies, pharmacists in (their lacs), hospitals, nursing homes, petrol pumps, airline booking counters, dealers in fertilizers and seeds, and above all the real estate sector, wherever concessions were made to facilitate those in urgent need of service have been blatantly misused. The petty traders, blue collar workers, and others contributed their might which just about accounts for the society as a whole. Every measure that was meant to be amelioratory has been cynically exploited and given the venality at a societal level nothing will work. No wonder, as one estimate suggests, the government may receive about 13 lac crores of rupees out of an estimated 15 lac corers. The nation that had mobilized against black money quickly changed sides, without notice, and mobilized faster in favour of white washing black money; for a price of course!

At the end of the day we have everyone from the top most industrialists to those living below the poverty line partaking of the same black money broth. Each gets according to his digestive capacity. The drive to unearth black money has ended up painting all of us black and washed the tainted money white. Could George Louis Borges or Italo Calvino have improved upon this plot?      

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Modified Morality

    We are so averse to the Chinese and yet we just cannot quite do without Chinese merchandise. Not only this, the idea of demonetization, which has captivated the Indian imagination, has a Chinese flavour to it. It reminds one of Charles Lamb’s stories wherein the young Chinese burnt down his house (accidentally) to roast a pig. Demonetization brought the economic activities of the nation to a standstill; it stopped the lives of our countrymen in their tracks. But if the bang of demonetization had to end up in the whimper of 49.9% tax on undeclared income, the nation should have been spared the trauma of surgical intervention. The hoarders of black money had already promised to pay 45%; the government could have come up with another VDIS demanding 50%.  It could have then wheedled for some more and then some more, because there seems to be no other way, as it appears in hindsight. Or was it a grave miscalculation of the strength of the enemy?  Along with a major failure of organization, was it a failure of political imagination as well?
 It is useful to continue with the medical- military metaphor because there are pertinent lessons to be learnt here. The showing in our battle with the enemy in black has been less than underwhelming; it should be borne in mind, should it ever come to an engagement with the other enemy in olive green and khaki camouflage. After this capitulation, this abject surrender before the enemy, the ranting of our defence minister takes on an even more portentous and ominous hue. If our war aims are to be whittled down during the conduct of the war, like it has been done today, in the real war we will end up surrendering what we already hold rather than recover what we are sworn to recover.
Along with the great inconvenience it caused to the poor and the economically vulnerable, it ruptured the domestic safety net, secretly erected by frugal housewives out of their savings, beyond the prying eyes of husband .This money was whiter- than- white, because it bore the marks of selflessness and sacrifice  of many years . Unbeknown to their husbands, therefore, unbeknown to the state also, the kitty of the last resort has also come to light. The amount of money thus stigmatized has surprised not only governments but husbands as well, because the government outlawed all cash holdings indiscriminately, irrespective of their origin. House wives with honest cash savings become subject to double taxation. We chose to bear the pain with grace and equanimity as our share of the burden. And the poor, the worst victims of institutionalized deception by the political class were absolutely stoic; suffering yet silent.
But as it appears now the whole nation was thrown into a ferment for nothing. This demonetization scheme has turned out to be a huge moral launderette for the illegal cash hoarders (their identities are bound to be kept secret!), not to mention a benign scheme for money laundering. A fight that looked like a crusade for moral rearmament has ended up by blurring the moral categories themselves. The corrupt hoarder and the honest accumulator of modest sums of money are made to stand on the same footing. If illicit accumulation of wealth was to be repeatedly condoned for a certain fee, (this is the fourth amnesty scheme since independence, two in a row in course of a few months, which is a record anywhere) then this regime should be extended to the crimes of blood and gore as well. The corrupt rich must be accommodated, in every way; we owe it to them.
 Was the pressure of the political class too much to handle?  Did it threaten to signal the end of electoral politics as such, because it threatened to deprive it of its life blood – black money? Was the pressure from within, because ruling party is known to draw its sustenance from groups of people who habitually deal in cash rather than financial instruments that eroded the resolve? Was it   simply a failure of nerves?  We will never know.
How sad I have to conclude all my musings these days with the refrain: Hope is the enemy.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Demonetization and Homeopathic Remedies.

I was part of three marriage celebrations a couple of days back, even though I was not invited to any. It was one of the most auspicious days and Patna was chockfull of  barats(marriage processions)   escorting the bridegrooms to their nemesis. Anyone else who happened to stir out of his house, even for some quotidian purpose like visiting a friend or meeting a relative ,was bound to run into one or the other.
I hit the first Barat somewhere near the R Block and was immediately co opted as an uninvited- invitee. Of course no direct invitation was extended; it was one of those modes of communication where gesture functions as language. The Barat straddled the entire width of the road and those who were following it were regaled-obliged to be regaled - to the spectacular fireworks on display. Nobody wanted to know whether I was related to the parties to the celebration, no one sought to know my caste, whether I was a Hindu or a Muslim was of no concern to them. But they wanted me to be part of the celebrations for as long as it suited them. After they had impressed me enough, they let my car pass and others similarly lucky and lined up behind me. A few hundred meters down the road, I ran into another one, just a little short of the new Patna Club. Portly ladies draped in heavily brocaded saris and ungainly men, crated in lounge suits and other formal wear were equally determined to have me as a part of their barat even though nothing spectacular was going on. My misery was short lived but the worst was reserved for the last.
  Just before taking a turn to my destined location, I hit another one. Its sociability was not only obtrusive; it was brazen. An orchestra was mounted on a truck and a singer was belting out popular numbers. In the general revelry, one particular dancer as if driven by some unconventional source of energy went on and on. Currency notes were pinned on him and from that distance I could not miss the outmoded notes as well.  He seemed to be prospering by the minute just as my anxiety was rising with the time ticking away on my watch .So near and yet so far! I did reach disheveled and distraught an hour and forty minute late. And so I guess   this was the common plight of all those who were similarly trapped.

   Tomorrow or day after, I guess,  the dancer, the murderer of other people’s time, will  also  be standing in the queue for exchanging his outmoded currency notes before some bank or the other and his time spent in the queue would be a subject matter of national mourning. Top opposition leaders would thunder in the parliament at the poor suffering masses who will constitute our dancer as well. The rich harvest of sympathy would perhaps lighten his load of queuing up that much. 
But what about us, poor humble senior citizens who plan every outing with great care, crowding as many engagements as possible in one; the unknown, unsung, undifferentiated, amorphous mass of people, neither poor nor rich, whose time is wasted almost on a daily basis? Bundhs, morchas, traffic jams, striking groups, marriage celebrations, mourning processions, religious ceremonies, protests against religious bigotry, roads being repaired, roads being dug, a broken vehicle on a narrow bridge, a demolition programme by the corporation, and of course Gandhi Setu, the eternal symbol of inexhaustibility of time and the patience of Biharis;   we are culturally conditioned to rob people of  their time.
 I  believe  all the opposition political parties are planning to have a bundh throughout the country  on the 28th of November , to protest inconvenience to poor people and waste of their time. And the only mode of protest they know is to murder more time of more people, by causing them more inconvenience, dislocations and disruptions. Sadly our politicians only know Homeopathic remedies.

Saturday, November 26, 2016


More than two weeks days down the radical decision to demonetize the high value currency notes, it is now transparently clear that the government had not thought deeply enough. The myriads of problems that this move will throw up and the commensurate logistical response to it had not been visualized in all their multifariousness. The woefully inadequate planning is the result of this paucity of thought. Bureaucracy has long since been depleted of talent because of the universal policy of opting for the pliant rather than the professional. Given the highly sensitive nature of the problem, the thought collective  geared to this task  was bound to be strictly limited, and the available talent further curtailed by the contingent nature of the choice. Whether less radical measures were available, as the critics of the move have been suggesting, also may have some merit in it. Could it be that the political dividend at the end of the move is what blindsided and led to this unexceptionable decision in some hurry? We are all eclipsed by the dark shadow that has fallen between a good idea and its shoddy execution. Even the large group of people who were its vocal supporters are beginning to be a little wary and the tentativeness of the government does not help matters much. It is very difficult to come by facts these days because facts are deployed in the service of particular causes; the supporters of government claim that the worst is over now and we shall live happily hereafter. Those opposed to the move claim that there is large scale despair and disquiet because the economic life of the country has stopped in its tracks. Facts have become Janus faced from one face they scowl at you from the other beam an endearing smile. But this much is clear that the disquiet and confusion at the national level is beginning to be felt and does not bode well.Now what?
 For good or for bad we are now committed to this course of action; rolling back would be an even worse option. Not only for the government- let it meet its just desert, who cares, but at an appropriate time- but for the nation at large. The nearest analogy to such a crisis one can think of is an ill conceived and ill timed war.  But howsoever one may disagree with the war aims and its timing, one is obliged to lend full support. Let us recall the national disgrace of 1962 .The then PM is reported to have asked his defence minister to throw the Chinese, who were making border incursions, out. The defence minister went ahead and did what he was told. In a few days the stark situation was blown in the face of every country man, including the folly of the lotus eating defence minister, yet the entire nation rallied behind the government, in an absolutely lost, hopeless cause. What happened is now history but it has deeply scarred the psyche of a brave, professional army permanently .Those were uncomplicated times but democratic politics has  immatured, repeat immatured, so much  with  time  as to become unrecognizable. Nationalism, xenophobia and such other jingoistic traits have been long known to be minor neurotic disorders but in recent times it has bred its own anti dote, anti nationalism, a life style disease of the well heeled and very educated, so in the bitter feud between the “nationalists” and the “anti nationals,” the interest of the real, tangible nation which is home to 125 crore Indians, real people has been lost sight of.
The nature of our politics being what it is, the political parties  would not allow Mr. Modi to walk with all the rewards should he pull it off and  be left sucking their thumbs? To be fair, no opposition would have behaved any differently. Just as the government is invested deeply in the success of the programme, the political opposition- and those   affected by it -see rich dividends in its failure, in chaos and confusion. In the absence of a political consensus on any issue it is like functioning in an atmosphere of 10 g. So an already difficult task becomes ten times harder.

The Indian poor are hugely inventive; they have seen calamities, food shortages, lack of basic amenities, official apathy. They have miraculously survived them all. Just let us think how best we, we who are a little better off, can make even a jot of difference to their situation. Their nerves are already jangled. Those who have a sense of history know that economic chaos is followed by political chaos, and political chaos is followed by restoration of order by some authoritarian agency. Those who are hoping for political gains out of economic chaos should think a few steps ahead? We are in the midst of a crisis because of a major goof up by the banking bureaucracy  ; do not seek to test the internal security apparatus. We who have seen it can tell them a thing or two. (The first paragraph is taken from my status update which I posted on my fb wall on 21 11 206)

Thursday, November 17, 2016


Mr. Modi’s decision to demonetize big denomination currencies has cast a spell of black magic on the entire political opposition, and even the high-minded and hypocritical parties, have been forced into a stance they would not have taken in normal times. Completely distraught, they seem to have dropped their guard. Who could have expected them to oppose and thus be perceived by their constituents, to be openly in support of Black Money? The fact that UP elections are just round the corner did not help matters much. The violent opposition by all political parties to demonetization is not only due to the fact that it has immobilized the vast funds of black money parked with them, they suspect a larger political mischief to be at work. Not only have they been robbed of their money they have also been robbed of their agenda.
 To assess the full impact of this decision let us first briefly summarize the nature of electoral politics as it has been practiced in India for quite some time. Electoral politics involves inflaming of passions to boiling point around elections which are occasions for trial of strength; voting becomes an act of vendetta. The mutual suspicion between the various factions and group formations, backward vs. forward  castes, Dalits Vs caste Hindus ,Hindus vs. Muslims, the entire population is worked up to a  feverish pitch, only to cool down after normalcy returns. The concept of the enemy has been vital to the whole electoral exercise. With the coming of the so called Hinduttva government, it has become particularly bitter and vicious. Be it also said that both sides have shown equal zest to slug it out. Now we have strategists like PK, the wonder boy, who has his ears close to the ground, who works with his team of hundreds of grass root workers who report the mood and the changing affiliations of the voters in every village on a real-time basis. With their cool heads and colder hearts these strategists apply principles of management on how best to fragment the society and devise winning combination of fractions.
          As we all know, Mr. Modi has a troubled, problematic record as CM Gujarat. Yet his smooth and swift rise from untouchability to respectability has been watched with dismay even horror by those who feel threatened by it. The only weapon in their armoury has been to rake up the sediment of his historical past, and keep it alive as a never-fading frame of reference for all his present deeds and decisions. They feel that this move liberates Mr. Modi from the secularism- Hinduttva- binary trap where he has been cabined and confined. It has created a clear divergence of interest between two groups, one very large and the other very small. The very large group threatens to leapfrog the barriers created and nurtured by political enterprise as homogenous group rooting for Modi. How can you tether the eradication of black money programme to a communalist or any other divisive agenda? Once you step out of the realm of political concerns into the realm of the economic, you leave your pre modern competitors clueless, breathless and bereft of ideas. This proposal, whatever its outcome, has captivated the hearts and minds of Indian people and as of now it promises to bring economic democracy one step nearer. Should it work, it would become a game changer.
Not only his detractors but his main support base of hard core Hinduttva needs to be both wary and worried, because should he choose to break loose, he will have enough countervailing popular support to take the plunge. Mr. Modi is a populist spell binder and a clever fabulist -his opponents say he is a conman, which isn’t such a bad thing after all, for going places in politics today. For all you know, driving the agenda of anti corruption, and the broad based support that it is likely to arouse, he may tap into that same area of human awareness which  converts common clay into gold . Fantasizing? In our times when everything is available except hope, fantasizing is a natural avenue of escape!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Babel Over Black Money II

Let us mentally reconstruct the profile of the hoarder of black money. On the one end of the spectrum are the more dreaded criminals, perpetrating all kinds of anti-national activity etc. On the other are those who are engaged in the seemingly benign but unconscionable activity of tax evasion. This itself is a very large stratum. The petty civil servant who fails to report a windfall gain, or some other incidental income, is just as culpable as the corporate tax evader of astronomical amounts of money. The Voluntary Disclosure scheme was targeted at this group of people, and the step that followed was fair notice given. So, those political parties and others that are questioning the morality of this decision should think about it. 
This brought to light another parallel economy which has not been recognized till now; d; the money that went underground for very laudable motives of thrift and frugality , as a safety net created by the housewives’ funds accumulated over years and hidden from the head of family who is obliged to report his income should it qualify to be taxed.Despite being largely  untainted  this  has   also become imperilled. It was always known that there were such funds but its spread and quantum comes as a surprise, and such a contingency does not seem to have been planned for. The inconveniences to the poor and logistical inadequacies are important issues which need to be discussed separately. 
What are the options before the hoarders of black money? Not many; either they go to the Bank or forget about their hoarded cash. If they forget about it, it is good riddance to bad rubbish. The money that does not enter the over ground economy decrease the liability of the Reserve Bank to redeem money to that extent. In the end, it will help banks revitalize their sagging financial condition. Griping critics have said that it is a clever move by the government to improve the financial health of the banking sector. And why not? If the evader and white collar criminal is not made to pay for it, who will? You pity the poor plumage and forget the dying bird!
The enforcement agencies and the hoarder of ill-gotten money have entirely opposite expectations of money; while the former would like his money to be untraceable to its owner, and have pure exchange value, be infinitely mobile, and be able to disappear from one jurisdiction and materialize in another, without let or hindrance. The enforcement agencies, if they had their way, would like every single bit of money, every paisa, to be legible, to bear its ownership as well as its origin. Which is perhaps just as well. Why should money that originates in criminal activities and tax evasion, money earned through kidnapping, bootlegging , prostitution, corrupt practices of the public servant , tax evasion etc., command that same respect and the same purchasing power as the money earned through honest enterprise ? The popular parlance does recognize the difference. Black money, dirty money, hot money etc. are certainly not very edifying epithets. But the Banks, which are the prime centers of all financial activity and act as a clearinghouse for all money generally, do not. (Things have improved considerably all over the world in view of the pervasive terrorist threat.)
 What many knowledgeable people are saying today that the hoarder of black money will now convert it into denominations of 2000, and live lot happier with less inconvenience and less unwieldy hoard? Indeed, it is possible, but for the old money to retain its status as money, it has to end up in the bank and change into new currency. Therein lays the rub.
The banks, by and large, do not recognize the colour of money. (Only now after terrorism became such a threat and under international pressure the norms have become a little strict).  For them, customer confidentiality and profitability are overriding considerations. The enforcement agencies pursuing the audit trail often run into the formidable wall of Bank secrecy and customer confidentiality norms. Banking regulation in every jurisdiction makes it difficult to obtain information. Section 4 of the Indian Bankers Book Evidence Act 1891 provides for the production of the certified copies of the entries in a banker’s book in a legal proceeding. Section 5 of the same Act stipulates that a no officer of a bank shall in any legal proceeding to which the bank is not a party be compelled to produce any bankers’ books. The standard demand made by the banking agencies for proofs of the criminality of the funds begs the question. The criminality cannot be established without the willing co-operation of the bank authorities if one is looking for suspicious or criminal transactions. 
Even in a wholly domestic environment it is extremely difficult to secure the cooperation of the banks. In an international context, it is nebulous and subject to fewer controls of the jurisdiction where the money was earned. An assurance of absolute secrecy and hiding from prying eyes is marketed as a privilege by the offshore banks, which can be bought relatively cheaply. That is the reason our leaders and captains of industry, and the other hoarders of black money, flock to them. This is the corpus of money that distorts, subverts and otherwise compromises the economic live of the nation 
The underground money is being driven over ground, and for sheer survival they have to end up with the bank. At the same time the banks are being compelled to record ownership. Let us recall that the objective of agencies responsible for containing white collar crime and tax evasion is to identify their funds and establish its ownership. To describe the situation the word ‘Compellence”, a word that I came across in the context of strategic debate, would be eminently suited. “Compellence” has been described as a set of actions or positions that force an opponent to take some action desired by the initial actor. It is the opposite of deterrence, in which the actions are intended to prevent an opponent from taking some action. Here it is a two way compellence. 
Of course there will be intermediaries, middlemen, third party transactions. But they will be people, identifiable by their PAN Cards. The more the merrier. The more numbers of people come in, the financial inclusiveness policy will get a boost, but there will be a precious hoard of data for future investigations to keep them busy for long. The connection can be established at leisure by any enforcement agency that knows its marbles.