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Sunday, May 24, 2020

A FEAST OF VULTURES

 If anyone ever had any doubt, handling of Covid19, all over the world has left scope for none. There was a time when politics occupied a corner of the turf and looked up to the larger society for its value system. But now politics has grown like weeds to occupy the entire turf and the values of politics are now the moral lodestar of the society. Conduct which society would have been aghast at is the new normal for politics and is accorded partisan approval.
Covid19 attacks the human race. Therefore, one should have thought the entire human race would put up a united front against the common enemy. At least that has been the common sense on warfare. If Donald Trump were to be believed, the ‘enemy’ of the entire human race , Covid19 , is a spiteful creation of China. His sabre rattling against China and his domestic strategy, were clearly politically driven, and aimed more at his rivals in the forthcoming elections .It has left America shattered and its people dying like flies. But even if we discount his hyperbole , the rest of world also believes that China has certainly struck some kind of a deal with the ‘enemy’, bought some favourable terms for itself , in lieu of ensuring its conquest of the rest of the world. Covid19 has spared its vast territory from contagion. The Chinese lives lost in Wuhan are being viewed as a sacrifice that will help it immensely in its trade wars with its enemies. Surely, there is some fifth column activity on the side of human race, going on in its war against Covid19.
Let us consider the situation at home . In the past we have given a great account of ourselves when China or Pakistan attacked India. They found every Indian, to a man ,ready to shed his blood in its fight against the enemy. We are faced with a situation far graver than that, it is an enemy that does not claim territory, it threatens life itself . Our present fight is with anti-life, a threat of universal reach that even the concerted effort of the greatest and most resourceful governments could barely cope with it. Covid19 attacks our human vulnerability, at the cellular level , and cells are not known to express themselves in political or religious terms. In so far as we are humans, we should be fighting the common enemy to save our cells not our political affiliations or religious identities, but are we? It looks like every party , every stake holder has raised its own army, claiming to fight the enemy. There is bound to be a squabble for positional advantage, much to the advantage of the enemy.
I put my query before those who know: how can an incumbent government and how can a party which has been for seventy years in government, fail to iron out a wart, like the bus issue? The media, birds of the same feather, are having a field day speculating, awarding marks to this or that party, but never holding them to account together. I have no preference, so I simply put it to their cussedness, because at the end of the day, there are going to be political victors and political losers, and they are playing for that . Meanwhile the migrants are lined up, ant like, trudging their way on their journey to nowhere. More than four hundred have already fallen by the wayside. Some of these also may also end up as more meat . Indians will debate, till cows come home , from the position of their respective political parties, as to who was to blame. But unless one makes an astral projection, and view the activity form a point above, one can’t beat the mirage. Viewed from that perch , the vocation of politics looks like a feast of vultures.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Get lost , the poor of the world !

The poor of the world have a nasty habit of disturbing the even tenor of ordered life, the status quo; they threaten the peace and calm when it is least expected of them. As if it was not labour enough for the governments, in centre and in the states, to have evacuated several lacs of those better off Indians by aircrafts and ships, this problem of migrant labours leaps up. Those who jet around the world in search of profit , those who scour the Chinese markets in search of goods at bargain prices to sell at premium in India, or those who make their dirhams , dinars , dollars in Middle East, US etc. brought the Covid19 too. Brought it , and then cheated the system, beat the quarantine . Not a difficult job; it is not much of a system really, porous to corruption and resilient to privilege. Those with influence , politicians , judges, IAS officers got a free pass, many took, paracetamol in the aircraft to avoid being quarantined but Covid 19 is the most democratic of diseases, it spared no one. Having got it themselves these people generously gave it away to the unsuspecting poor who were at their service, as domestic help , or drivers or in any number of ways in which poor in their concentric circles make themselves useful to the rich. The elite nicely quarantined themselves. The entire economic activity had come to a standstill so what to do with these people who had outlived their utility? They could no longer account for their existence. Those who had nicely fit in, in their sardine like existence, posed the threat of community transmission. How could they give it back to the rich , it is always the poor who are the recipients? Troublesome limbs which were better cut off, abandoned!
And then several millions of them erupted like lava during earthquakes, a mass of seething humanity of migrant labours, disgorged from the hidden underbelly of shining Mumbai , Surat, Ahamadabad, Banglore, Delhi . Their slums and shanties spilled out their secrets, well known but studiedly forgotten. And now they are walking, like ghostly shadows in cities , alone and in family strength, carrying all their earthly possessions with them, are spilling like liquified mass of humanity , across on highways, along railway tracks. We never knew there were so many! Why are they forced to undertake the impossible journey of thousands of miles on foot ,on a meagre diet of biscuits and water? No body seems to know why they have to make this certain tryst with death: starvation, being run over by buses and trains, or sheer fatigue lie in ambush and many are falling every day . Why are they not on the trains which were supposed to carry them? It is a tower of Babel here, the many governments speak with many voices , sometimes a single government itself speaks in many voices. And now the court of the last resort the Hon’ble Supreme Court has refused to intervene.
Treated like dirt by the system, the wretched of the earth have put their own and the lives of their families at great risk The misery of the march will earn a few Magasassy awards for our journalists, those India baiters who had nothing sensational as yet ,will capture some memorable images, but no one ,but one will square up to the real answer. In a market driven society the poor cannot create demand nor step up the market, hence they stand in stark contradiction to the logic of the neo-liberal order. In a world order which is meant to cater only to the aspiration of the rich and powerful , they are quaint absurdities. Jean Baudrillard has the solution for the poor ,in his book America. Attacking in scathing terms the American system where ‘power’ has no contact with the poor he says “ …..the have-nots will be condemned to abandonment, disappearance pure and simple. Utopia has arrived ,if you aren’t part of it , get lost.”

Thursday, May 14, 2020

QUARANTINED THOUGHTS


Meditations on man and microbe
The closing lines of The  Plague by Albert Camus s   the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen-chests; that it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city,  just about sum up the attitude  of a medicalised society which  treats all of  germs , pathogens , microbe , lonely, lost strands of RNA  are  its sworn  enemies. During the last couple of days, I have come across articles in respectable journals ,  wherein the Covid 19 crisis  is being termed as a man vs microbe thing.  I too did it in  a post in order to spite the scientific hubris of man.

Humans as we are, we cant but think in human ways. The us vs them binary is the commonest way of explaining our predicament, our need for enemy is  explainable in
terms of the essentialist definition of  human - from Aristotle to Aquinas ,  from Hegel to Husserl-  in opposition to the animal, where man is in possession of logos, spirit, subjectivity, etc. while the latter has none.
In his  The New Ecological Order, Luce Ferry(I hasten to add  ‘deep ecology’ is not my cup of tea) mentions a very interesting fact that  pre scientific man was fair to a fault: he  put  even  troublesome beetles and leeches   on trial , and  the rats of Autun were issued summons, as late as in the 16th century.  Francis Bacon’s injunction ‘nature must be hounded into yielding her secrets,’ was duly picked by the new science of Newton and together with  Descartes  “a perfect model of anthropocentrism was  put in place in which all rights went to man and none to nature.”  Man invented an existence for himself, as the jewel of the crown of creation, as the master of all he surveyed.


 But  history  of evolution of life forms suggests otherwise. Microbes  have been here  for as long we have the recorded history of earth while , mammoths and mastodons, the dinosaurs and big reptiles , stellar sea cow and Tasmanian tigers stunning, successes in their own days have come, dominated the scene for  a while , and then  disappeared. But the viruses are sticking it out. Would the viruses, lords and  masters of the earth , for the last  4.5 billion years, be interested in   picking up a fight against a species  that is just a million years old, is  essentially fragile and has been dangerously  lurching form one threat of extinction to another, and sooner or later will  do itself in,  with or without much  outside help ?  Stephen J Gould  says in Time’s Arrow. What could be more comforting, what more convenient for human domination, than the traditional concept of a young earth, ruled by human will within days of its origin. How threatening, by contrast, the notion of an almost incomprehensible immensity, with human habitation restricted to a milli microsecond at the very end!

Man and microbe, no matter how highly men  think of themselves live by the same rules , are governed by the same laws  of natural selection. We are swimming in a sea of bacteria and such other life forms , which constitute a large part of the biomass. But frankly speaking most of these microscopic creatures have no interest in  human beings , they mind their own business, many of them are in fact friendly , the ones which inhabit the root nodules of plants , the others that are  furiously busy in our guts for our benefits.
 Viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites  from unicellular  animalculae to 80-foot-long tapeworms take up residence inside animals, but we’re safe from these things. Mostly, these disease-causing agents stick to one host species. Migration from one to another is not an easy business .Many  barriers stand between each of us and that previously unknown infection hosted by an unfamiliar animal. Breaking  down of  the barriers between animals and people,  a zoonosis is a rare occurrence.  Jarred Diamond in his  Guns Germs and Steel  has written an extended history ,  drawing upon a wide variety of geographical , ecological  and historical sources  from ,  of past  11 – 12 thousand years  years when man first domesticated  animals. That  was also the beginning of zoonotic diseases. The human( Chinese ?) taste for  exotic meet of Bat and Pangolins and snakes led  ultimately the corona virus to jump from its original habitat in the bats to man .  So the Covid 19  did not  come with a belligerent intent to wipe out the human race, it was  invited in, so to say. It is  our hedonism that has brought us to such a pass. It is our  essentialist concept ,  our  attitude towards nature in  which we tend to treat nature  as our zoo , vault and park that is at the root  cause of our trouble. We radically need to change our way of thinking  followed by our way of living but  what  we are  furiously seeking   our redemption in a vaccine. Wrong again. We can never match the ingenuity of the shape shifting virus.   SARS1  came in 2004 , it released in an updated cleverer version in 2019 and it will come again , and again , and again. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

CINESE CHECKERS


A very eminent professor of economics at Cambridge, of Indian origin, with whom I conversed once or twice, Tweeted to an absolute excess on the disproportionate focus on Covid-19, quoting the number of deaths from other causes to make his point. So, I engaged him one day. It was not its capacity to kill, but the anxiety on account of instant contagion, that has brought down this world.
When you are in sound mental health, you are never hounded by the idea that someday you may commit suicide, even though a very high number of people do it every day. If you sit in a car, you never for a moment think that you may die in a crash because the lives of an unconscionably large number of people - much greater than Covid-19 - are lost in accidents. Despite the higher probability of these, you do not plan for these contingencies. But today, when you step out of your house, if you get into the Metro, occupy a seat at the airport, go to the park - you wonder if the virus released by the sneeze or cough of an active or an asymptomatic patient is still suspended in mid-air, or if the doorknob has been infected. Have my hands been properly washed? The anxiety is ubiquitous, the danger all pervasive. People have been driven to commit suicide at the merest apprehension that they may catch the contagion. Of course, the anxiety is unreal, insubstantial and disproportionate to the lethal potential, yet it has shut down the world.
But he would not give up. He said a mosquito bites you and you wonder if you have caught malaria, but here a starlet holds a party and Lucknow is locked down. I was not prepared to give up: Forgive me for being persistent, I said, a mosquito bite may give me malaria but I can’t pass it off to my wife even if I bite her, a Covid-19 infected man can cause havoc in concentric circles of people whom he meets by just being himself. Once you are delivered to an anxiety, you are beyond help.
Admittedly, the Wuhan virus is nothing in terms of lethal potential compared to SARS, in the very recent past. SARS came, occupied a slice of global concern for a while, and caused some loss of lives. So did the Avian Flu and Nipah, and quickly receded into history. In India, it was heard rather like a distant rumour. But the Wuhan virus has shaken the world and India. The devastation that it has caused to each one of us in our personal lives, to us as social creatures and to us as economic beings would be unimaginable - if it were not true. We cannot even begin to estimate the damage.
Paul Tillich, existentialist Christian theologian of culture, makes the distinction between fear and anxiety, in his book “The Courage to Be” as follows:
"Fear has a definite object which can be faced and attacked, endured or conquered, whereas anxiety has no object. Without an object or a tactic to defeat it, anxiety surfaces as the pain of impotence, negation and disempowerment.....He who is in anxiety is, insofar as it is mere anxiety, delivered to it without help.”
This anxiety on account of Covid-19 is not a naturally occurring germ or virus; it is anthropogenically created information (or deliberate disinformation) riding on the Chinese propaganda juggernaut. Once brought into being, it has mutated and multiplied of its own to create anxieties, inadequacies, and paranoia on an apocalyptic scale. The images of people dropping dead in the streets of Wuhan, the stores of thousands of cremations - true, false and apocryphal - helped build up the Wuhan Virus as the Horseman of Apocalypse, and lockdown as the only protection against it. China was economical with the relevant data, and when the invasion of the virus took place, the world locked itself down in response to the propaganda, reminding me of the immunologic response of a Horseshoe crab, a marine animal which lives around coastal areas. In response to invasion by a certain bacterium, the crab deploys a complete array of battle responses - everything that it has at its disposal . The outcome is widespread tissue destruction, as in the generalized Shwartzman reaction, or outright failure of the circulation of blood, as in endotoxin shock. That is what it looks like.
An objective scientific assessment of the lockdown is yet to be made, but not only the Indian economy but the entire system is in state of shock, and we are struggling to get back to our feet. The poor , as always,are the worst victim of bad planning, and the fate of masses of loitering migrant labours will someday, when the great Plague Novel is written about our crisis, occupy the centre stage of the writer's concern.
Meanwhile, now it seems we are resigned to coexist with Covid-19. In some quarters, herd immunity, nature’s way of doing things, is already being talked a bout. We will think about economic growth another day.Survival now occupies the centre stage of our concerns Is that how China wanted to reorder the world nearer to its heart’s desire?

Monday, May 4, 2020

QUARANTINED THOUGHTS

When time stands still, when the present is deferred and the future prorogued, when you can’t tell the hour of the day or the date of the month, when your biological clock is seriously disjointed, how do you cope with yourself? In a plague the only activity, says Albert Camus, is to mark time. The illusion of time passing, its bare chronicity, is sustained by weaving it into a meaningful plot of activity. In quotidian terms the prospect of living in the future, planning for tomorrow, is a sign of being alive.
All of us invest time with shape and significance in our own different ways. The office going creature, a civil servant, a sub-variety of the species Homo Sapiens, spends his day and half the evening working in the office, creating more work for everyone around, up and down, fills the emptiness in his life with files and endless palaver and gossip about matters concerning this activity. No wonder extension of service is so much coveted for its own sake in government circles. After retirement many take to golf to while away time. Books have been my solace for very long and now that I am the complete master of my own time, we have become inseparable companions. During the lockdown, trapped away from home in distant Delhi, I am cut off from the source of my sustenance, my hoard of books, well leafed, dog-eared, some tattered as well but loved nonetheless for it, to each one of them, on every shelf, I could reach with the instinct of a homing bird. If Philip Larkin were to pose the question to me “ What are days for ?” I would unhesitatingly say, ‘ for reading books, what else are days for?’
But what do you do when you have the time but you do not have the freedom to organise it around activities meaningful to you. Eliot's poetic projection, “all time is eternally present” suddenly becomes a dreaded reality and you begin to wonder whether it is not a stroke of good fortune to be able to lament you “have no time to stand and stare?”
I was introduced to Andrew Marvel - and other Metaphysicals- more than fifty years ago, as a teenager, and I have maintained very cordial relations with them ever since. I admired Marvel’s metaphysical conceits as a young man but at the ripe old age of sixty eight, I discovered the prophetic nature of his poetry which is at the same time pragmatic too. Marvel was aware of the dual nature of time, the one that hangs on your head and the other which slips through your fingers. In his poem 'To His Coy Mistress', he holds out a formula for coping with the phenomenon of time dilation during indefinite lockdown: praising,
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.
Plan B addressed the issue in a forthright and practical manner. Knowing full well that time is a cheat, it has to be given a run for its money “like amorous birds of prey,/Rather at once our time devour/Than languish in his slow-chapped power/... though we cannot make our sun/ Stand still, yet we will make him run.”
(I have done my share of gazing and praising and all that forty five years of happy conjugal life entails. I have discovered my wife’s heart and I can vouch that it is pure gold. But that is not the issue in the times of lockdown. The more important question that folks are asking is what do we do about social distancing? Get a bed broad enough to maintain the norm, get another bed or have separate bedrooms? Modi jee did not tell us that! Obligation without explanation is the norm for us, we have become used to taking orders with sweet docility! We are the lock-down people, our homes are our prisons, we are our own warders.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

IN THE THICK OF ELECTIONS MUSINGS OF A NON ELECTIONEERING KIND.

As is customary, when I visited my grand children this time round, I asked them for their wish list of books. The younger one, all of nine years, said she wants nothing but Roald Dahl. She has read them all and she thinks that, that is all there is to good writing. Roald Dahl, as we all know wrote for children, but wrote some titillating stuff for adult reading as well. To wean her away and to tickle her taste buds I had given her my favourite Thurber stories, Many Moons and 13 Clocks which she read with diligence but without much excitement. Her mental landscape is so taken up with Rohald Dahl that it leaves no space for other competitors. The elder one is into Harry Potter and is equally dismissive of others. She has also read Charles Lamb’s Tales of Shakespeare and Romeo , Juliet and Merchant of Venice and The Tempest in the original. But to my utter relief she spared me the mortification of handing down some uncharitable judgement like, “A pair of boots is worth all of Shakespeare”, variously attributed to Lenin and Stalin. After having read the many abridged editions of famous authors she has decided that Dickens for her is a wasteful exertion, pouring over hundreds of pages ( never mind that Potter potters on into volumes adding up to thousands of pages) Jane Austen is too boring , Hardy she did not touch because names like Tess of the D'Urbervilles give her the creeps. Romantic Poetry for her is too prosaic and the prose of masters mere parody!
Children can rightly claim to have discovered truth with a capital T , simply because they haven’t mastered the lower case of the alphabet of experience . Many of our opinions and views are better enunciated in the lower case. That is the reason I find myself left out of much of the debate going on in the social media . There is so much certainty, so much confidence in the disputants that Truth is on their side that a timid person like me gets easily disheartened. When finality has been achieved, when the last word has already been spoken, where is the scope for debate? As of now truth has been incarnated in the form of two competing narratives about what is happening, one clearly emanating from the followers of Mr. Modi , and another from those who support Mr. Rahul Gandhi, the two claimants to the highest political and the social media is rife with believers arguing one way or the other, with an ecclesiastical fervour. But I am blown by currents of uncertainty, seeing a little logic in this position but some in that as well , so much so that my propositions are hedged in by so many ‘ what precisely and ifs and buts’ that they cease to win me friends on either side. In the end they are no propositions at all and I end up alienating both camps. Neither too left or liberal to be their fellow traveller, nor too right to be the mascot of the ‘new India .’
There was a time, in my early teens, when I had just imbibed a kindergarten version of Marxism, and on the basis of that small capital I could launch on a tirade against its evils. Armed with ideas culled from The God That Failed and the Encounter , that cultural weapon designed by the USA against the Soviet onslaught in its battle for the control of minds of Europe and the rest of the free world. Incidentally to be reading Encounter the intellectual thrill was the equivalent of the physical thrill of riding a Rolls Royce Cornice.( I guess, I have never been inside one!) In the end USA's cultural weapons proved more powerful than the Minutemen and the Midget men, the many versions of ICBMs that were built and kept in readiness. How ironic that the Cold war ended not through military conquest of the enemy but due to the abandonment of its ideological position by the USSR,.
Colin Wilson, and Koestler, Orwell and Isaiah Berlin, Sartre , and Simone De Beauvoir, Camus and Borges, Nadzehda Mandelstam and Evegni Evteshenko , Hannah Arendt, Andre Malraux and a hundred other names just cascaded from my tongue like a an avalanche of polemical onslaughts . Profligacy with words, overabundance of ideas, mobilisation of arguments borrowed from powerful minds buoyed me on the most stormy of seas. I would get into arguments, write polemical texts, and defend the indefensible ,all with the aplomb of a man in possession of the ultimate truth.
In my undergraduate days in college, my teachers appeared to be indulgent. In one of my cocky moments, I wrote a long tract on Eliots’s Wasteland as being the greatest intellectual fraud of the century . My teacher took the trouble of engaging with it with all the seriousness at his command. He made long comments in the margin, trying to point the flaw or fallacy in the argument, a few passages were heavily marked with some positive comments in the margin and interjections like ahem! I thought my teacher to be too timid to hold irreverent view on somebody so well established like Eliot or even opinions contrary to the established views.
But the world does not consist of amused, indulgent teachers alone. Ever so often you bump into unforgiving, judgmental people at crucial junctures of your life for whom this incautious abandon is a sign of impudence ,brashness and rudeness which must be firmly curbed. I ran into a couple of them at my only UPSC interview at the age of 20 years and a few months. I was appearing only for the IPS and English literature was one of my papers. The gentleman, a retired vice chancellor of a famous university, had taught English literature all his life . He recited four lines from a famous poem by Eliot and asked me to follow up, if I could. Eliot, Yeats, WH Auden , the Metaphysical , the Augustans, French symbolists among others were my favourite, as indeed they were, of my generation of Indian students. So I started with the last line of his quote with appropriate corrections and went on till I was stopped. Similarly I was asked to locate a few lines of a famous poem of Yeats and he then wondered if I could quote a few preceding lines. Again it was a juicy half volley –I started at the beginning and was stopped half way to be collared by a bureaucrat , retired or serving, I could not find out .Simla Agreement was the flavour of the season . It was also a sure provocation. I spoke what a man of my age and immaturity could say . All in all I came out mighty pleased with my performance , modestly rating my performance worth 70 %. 40 % is what I got ! Taken together with very high marks in the written examination I still sailed through, to be placed fairly high, in fact to be among the topmost , but it took me all these years to decode the grading.
I have been assisting the UPSC as a member on the interview board for the civil services examination for the last couple of years. I keep looking for some bumbler like myself ,as I must have appeared to the interview board before which I appeared , open , self assured, candid, even cocky and speaking the truth as revealed to me . I have looked for him, but looked in vain. Surprisingly I met many more of my own likeness , as I am now , careful, cautious, meticulous . They were so unprovokable, they were so prim and proper, punctilious and patient. May be because they were already approaching thirty, many in the middle thirties, they have seen quite a bit of the world already. They know there is no such thing as intellectual honesty , they know the value of opinion consumerism, so they always hold the correct opinion for the season. It is a procession of correctness, in matters of dress , of mannerisms , of smile , the slight forward bend at precise correct angle. You cannot teach youth to the not- so young.I think the species has become extinct and may be the UPSC discovered that I was paying more attention to my search for the lost tribe. I did not get the invite this year!

Monday, April 1, 2019

WHY THE POOR STAY POOR

A REPRISE ITEM



WHY THE POOR STAY POOR
Garibi Hatao, a slogan that Mrs. Gandhi deployed to reap electoral dividends is still a blue chip issue and Mr. Rahul Gandhi has discovered the magical properties of the mantra, never mind that more than fifty years (out of which Congress was in power for forty! The BJP in its turn was too busy catering to the ultra-rich,) have elapsed between the two initiatives. The Indian National Congress is heavily invested in poverty, and helpfully, the poor who have stayed poor, come in handy for the grandson as well. When the NYAY YOJANA is being touted as a transformative project I thought it topical to share my considerable experience on the implementation of anti-poverty programmes.
I had the occasion to investigate many of the anti-poverty programmes, in united Bihar, one of the poorest states, during my various assignments where I closely observed the nuts and bolts of the delivery apparatus as well as the mechanics of the programme implementation. This post is a radically summarised version of a larger project -which has since been abandoned -The Parable of the Well Paid Public Servant: A Review of Three Major Poverty Alleviation Programmes (Targeted Public Distribution System, the Dhoti Sari scheme and the Indira Gandhi Awas Yojana, the whole ensemble of Roti, Kapada and Makan.)The write up referred to is more in the nature of a police report- heeding the advice of Pierre Bordeau, the noted French sociologist,- that one must avoid the temptation to turn these stories in to “literature”. The best thing Bordeau says is “to make our readers see that raw absurdity, without any special effects. …. to allow these stories to retain their extraordinary and almost unbearable violence.”
These generalizations draw upon my experience of investigating a slew of anti-poverty programmes but only Targeted Public Distribution Scheme (Red Card, Antyoday) has been cited, given the limited scope of an article and the fact that this particular incident has for long been in the public domain.
This relates to the pre ADHAR regime when identification and targeting errors were the norm.
I propose to state my conclusions in the first part. In the next two I would try to validate those conclusions on the basis of hard, documented facts.
I
1 In a market driven society the poor cannot create demand nor step up the market, hence they stand in stark contradiction to the logic of the neo-liberal order. Yet there is a very unusual political consensus that will not oppose, either on pragmatic considerations, or for reasons of economic viability, the allocation of resources to poverty eradication programmes, even though there has been routine and unedifying lack of achievement and orientation in meeting the targets. A certain agreed inefficiency in the management of these programmes is also perhaps part of the same consensus. Every culture obligates its citizens to set apart a sum of money towards charity, Dan, or Zakat, where the recipient is an anonymous, incidental medium for ensuring one’s own rites of passage. Poverty alleviation programmes, more than a palliative economic measure, may sometimes appear to be a mode of political correctness and expiation.
2 To introduce some clarity in our thinking, it would be useful to differentiate the role of various agencies. The professional economists, statisticians etc. devise the parameters for defining poverty and methods of arriving at poverty estimates . The government makes the necessary allocation and the budget is approved by the legislature. The problem of identifying the actual poor in accordance with given norms and ensuring that the subsidy reaches the deserving poor –essentially a managerial problem –is the exclusive domain of the bureaucratic apparatus of the state government. The focus of my write up is the numbing indifference and callousness of the bureaucracy and the formidable challenge that it can throw in face of the most determined efforts to unravel the glaring and gross miscarriages of the programme.
3 We are still wedded to the old colonial concept - salvation only at the hands of the district magistrate. The district administration is a preexistent arrangement to be assigned any and every task, howsoever, over worked, or ill equipped in terms of both motivation and skills it may be. The poor achievements in the poverty alleviation programmes can be largely attributed to the fact that the system geared to the task of delivering the benefits is rigid, attitudinally inadequate and unbending to the task in hand. Traditionally the authority of the district magistrate is rooted, largely, in the fact that he commands the obedience of the district police force. But whereas it is advantageous in –maintaining law and order, reigning in the malcontents, performing regulatory functions, the law –and – order – cast –of –mind has a countervailing disadvantage for this kind of a task. The poor, in their inability to articulate their concerns, in claiming their due are vulnerable and helpless like newborn babies. It is not enough to make allocations; it is more important to reach it to his doorsteps and empower him to claim it as his right. The newborn baby and the poor are alike in their helplessness- they are stricken with hunger but cannot articulate it, nor may reach for food howsoever plentiful the availability. Just as the baby has to be helped to the mother’s breast for nourishment a lot of flexibility and hand holding is required in reaching the relief to the poor households.
4 For the poor to benefit from any programme one has to understand the narrow realities of his life and above all have great compassion and commitment. The bureaucracy is also in the monopolistic possession of information, and it can always manage -and manipulate it, to its advantage. But more importantly, performance in this major sector of the state activity and the career rewards of civil servants are not aligned on the same plain. How cavalier can some civil servants be will be evident presently.
5 The poor are mere numbers in the government records and these numbers can be suitably manipulated, doctored and dressed up to paint a cosy scenario which is furthest from truth. So in the government records the poor may flourish, while they continue to languish in reality, hardly touched by the grandiose conception.
6 A fact that has escaped the notice of poverty economists is that the poverty alleviation programmes almost necessarily lead to a large scale impoverishment of the public sphere and the debasement of the values of the community. Since the per capita subsidy is extremely low a very large number of the poor have to be excoriated to make a decent pile. Thus a formidable nexus of graft and rent seeking and fraud on a grand scale develops which engulfs the poor also in a big way. It is the poor who underwrote the values of probity in public life and my contention is that these programmes have irredeemably driven us to this amoral swamp . Think of MNREGA and you will know what I mean!