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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

Demonetization Discord : Where Do We Go From Here

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

Modi's Black Magic

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.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Babel Over Balck Money

The decision to demonetize the high denomination currency notes has sharply divided the national opinion which is not quite unexpected. Such is the political climate today, that if someone takes a stand against cannibalism, there are bound to be people in support of human beings eating other human beings. Obviously, no one has quite lamented, “oh! My precious hoard of treasured currency notes, the result of years of dishonest toil.” They foist some public purpose on to their opposition to the move. The poor, as always, come in handy. It has been alleged that it is they who are bearing the brunt. They are indeed but   they are bearing  it with fortitude.  After many economists and public figures have proclaimed its still birth  one feels a little intimidated in  putting orth ones views . But such is the overarching nature of the decision that to remain silent would be a failure of civic responsibility.
I must first make clear what is my understanding of the government decision to outmode the 1000, and 500 notes to curb black money. 

I think it is just one measure in a complex array of such measures to be taken up in future.

I do not think that this step will end black money for ever and we will live happily ever after.

It is obvious that this measure will impact only the money hoarded in form of currency notes but its cascading effect would be felt only after a while.

For the impact of any decision to be felt takes time and such drastic measure causes large-scale upheaval. As usual the poor are the worst collateral damage.

It also shows which of the travails of the poor are worth taking notice by political class and which best ignored . 

More than an economic measure I think it is a reminder to our society of the debauched state of our financial system.  Its universal reach  has led people to join the discourse on public morality. Everyone feels compelled to take a stand. Those who have the hoarded cash and their outspoken supporters must now become a matter of public knowledge.
The poor are at the centre stage no matter which way you look at it .Those who are condemning it and those who are approving it are doing it in the name of the poor. .
In every society there are eternal nay sayers, all knowers, contrarians, prophets of doom, and arm chair reformers who want their reforms served up to them in their cosy perch. They will always opt for the other option which is not there. 
Economists and those who know, fear that the move may not only fail to contain black money; it may actually increase the supply. Some of them are already predicting its failure. It will be timely to ask the question of them “How and why has our economy arrived at this state where, it is half black and half white .It is not the case that carpenters, masons and plumbers were advising the government all this while. Despite being under the care of qualified and eminent economists, if the economy has acquired its mulatto character, we know things happen despite the wisdom of economists . Contentious but let us pass for the moment, we can discuss it some other time. Meanwhile the pro government and anti government economists can slug it out.
Let us now address the concern of the political class for the poor. Had the political class in general been concerned about the poor they would have long ago come out of their poverty .After all Garibi Hatao was the most outspoken agenda for very long . For starters, it has been said that the industrialists , capitalists etc are not to be find in the queue; it is the poor who are standing in the queue etc. and they have been harassed. As for the poor standing in the queue, it is for the simple reason that their holdings of these big denomination notes can be carried in their pockets or purses and they are unafraid ; the ones who have them stacked from the floor to ceiling in stadium size warehouses may have deployed an army of carriers of small portions. They would not have the courage to take them in trucks to the bank. The poor are happy, the poor feel proud and empowered, honest toil over dishonest theft is being vindicated for the first time. 
As for wasting of hours – this is ridiculous. Time and human lives are the only two things of which there is a limitless supply and are wasted with great alacrity. It also shows which of the travails of the poor are worth taking notice and which best ignored. Take for instance the Gandhi Setu. In 15 years of its dilapidated existence it has caused a loss of billions upon billions of man hours have been lost and, as in any dislocation , the poor are the least protected against losses. People wasting time in queues has become an issue where the staple of our democratic politics is dharnas bands rasta rokos.
To say that the BJP has laundered all its black money in these two and a half years beggars the imagination.I do not know whether some people pretend imbecility or are they God gifted in this department .Three can keep a secret if two of them are dead, but here we are being asked to believe that any number of BJP fund managers were on the job, without any one coming to know . This reminds me of what Lenin said about that maverick intellectual Dwight Macdonald. “ Everybody has a right to be stupid, but comrade Macdonald absolutely abuses the privilege “. So many people should abuse their privilege at once is quite amusing. If Mr. Modi has done this for the motive above ( absolutely impossible! ) I will suggest the best tack. He could be condemned by TS Eliot’s line “The last act is the greatest treason./ To do the right thing for the wrong reason”
My contention is that instead of being “anti poor” this move has placed the poor man in the centre of the national drama that is being played out

Friday, November 4, 2016

Some thoughts on the nature of our urban existence



                        Oh! Delhi.

November  is the cruelest month for Delhi and you may survive, if you lock yourself indoors, denying yourself the much needed fresh air ( such as it is, polluted several times over  beyond permissible limits! ) and sunlight(whatever miraculously  seeps  through the  blanket of haze, smoke and  dust  which must  now be declared  Delhi’s  official dress. As every year, the victory of the forces of good over evil was celebrated with great verve and vigour and to the accompaniment of lights and firecrackers raising the pollution level of ambient air to dangerous levels .The good won in spirit but the symbolic fight left those of us who have survived in flesh to cope with the consequences.

But as the saying goes ‘If the If Mohammed will not go to the mountain, the mountain must come to Mohammed Yesterday the ‘mountain’, - the ‘outside’- broke into my hideout, indoors, with full force. The living room felt like a traffic island on a busy city intersection, at peak hour and I escaped to the bedroom which I had sealed hermetically. My mind was somehow able to draw comfort from the thought that my recycled breath was better for me.  

 Newspapers report that to ease the situation, the Delhi administration plans to install air purifiers at the polluted hotspots. And then? Some more purifiers? We add flyways and road over bridges by the dozens every year but the problem of traffic congestion never seems to go away. After all you have to disgorge, regurgitate the sucked in impurities of the air at some point, or the volume of traffic clogging a narrow artery, somewhere. It is like chasing the infinite regress of images in a hall of mirrors and neighbourhoods are receding at an accelerated pace.

 To the survival kit of a bottle of mineral water the Delhite must now add a gas mask or the bottle of oxygen.  Uber is already promising a vertical takeoff landing aircraft at call. Within a year or two and, with some luck, the Delhite will encapsulate himself like the Bubble Boy David. Born in US in 1971 with severe combined  immunodeficiency (SICD), he  was, in  a manner of speaking, imprisoned in his specially constructed sterile plastic bubble, till he  died at the age of 12 ,because he was so inherently  fragile as to catch any  passing infection.

There is already a long list of health anxieties, but  Dengue  seems to be  uppermost on the list . I do not have to go far; the demonic energy and malevolence with which my daughter goes after the lone ,unfortunate,and  vagrant mosquito or anything small and minuscule that takes to wings, is proof enough of what is on the mind of every doting mother.  Whenever  we go out ,along with my grand children, I also get my quota of protective armour of Odomos. I suffer the elaborate  ritual ceremony  for warding off  Dengue  quite sportingly .

 Even though Bharati  Nagar, near the posh Lodhi Colony and  home to senior civil servants  , is one of the better off areas of Delhi it  has reported cases.Dengue and Chikengunya   seem to have unmistakably  a  Marxist lineage ; they attack privilege.  People who live in cleaner surroundings  are their inevitable target. As further proof of their distinguished  ancestry   these mosquitoes  can  live and breed only  in enclaves of privilege  - clean stagnant water in desert coolers , flower pots etc. Fetid drains, or polluted water bodies  cannot sustain  the Dengue population.

 Hardly four or five, out of nearly  3500,  strains of mosquitoes  have any  hostile design on us , yest mosquitoes have become the universal enemy of mankind – or that species  of  homo sapiens which inhabits our part of the earth. Wholesale extermination  of the mosquitoes is high on human agenda  because that is how the modern man  likes to fight his enemies. The  epic fight of man  and   mosquito  goes on  everyday, everywhere   here in Delhi,  in slums and areas cut off from  municipal services as well as in the posh government colonies where  fogging machines trail clouds of gas, potentially lethal for dengue infected mosquitoes . Luckily for  the mosquitoes the humans are far too clumsy.They  just cannot manage the en masse  extinction !

With the onset of winter, we are beginning to put the fear of Dengue and Chikungunia behind us but the resurgent malaria is an ever present threat  and cannot be written off. But then  what are we to do about  the mischievous,  shape shifting  virus who are the cause of so much misery   by way of  giving us flu. ? They are hugely  inventive  and  slip through the  safety net of  anti flu vaccine  in a different disguise.  And they have no fear of  antibiotics.  We have for so long distrusted our own antibodies that we repose absolute faith in the antibiotics; there is one for every occasion. They are our savior and if they let us down, then God help us.

In the meanwhile the people who could have made a difference to our prospects in our fight against pollution and  the minuscule enemies, Mr.Kejariwal and the Mr. Najeeb Jung, the CM and the LG  are making it worse . Locked in a do or die battle, they   contribute  acrimonious decibels and   fire and brimstone  to an already vexed situation.  Mr. Kejariwal declared sometime back  that  there was a high level threat to his life . He did not elaborate , however ,whether it would be delivered via an infected  mosquito or through other traditional means. In their inactivity  they  spur the courts to hyperactivity- higher courts are busy  sorting out  the issues that  the  combatants  raise against each other. Of course all at tax payers’ expense and time!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Who Killed Rajdev Ranjan?

Who killed Rajdeo Ranjan, the correspondent of a Hindi newspaper, is a question that reverberates today throughout the public sphere of Bihar and beyond and fuels private anxieties of those living here. The more we know the more stridently we ask the question ‘Who killed Rajdeo Ranjan?’ We know who did it. By asking the question we are merely trying to point the needle of suspicion away from our own guilty selves. The society as a whole killed Rajdeo Ranjan.
 As I said in an earlier post ,"The criminal element in our society has metastasized over the years and is now firmly lodged in its bone marrow of the body politic. Cancer evokes a feeling of helplessness, of resignation and an existentialist terror in those who are condemned to watch it take its toll of their loved ones. The civil society finds itself less and less able to count on its antibodies – the institutions, whether formal or informal, those whose duty it is to contain crime - have deserted or stand compromised." Crime has now an overarching presence in our society.  It is certainly not true for Bihar only; the entire country is afflicted by this malady, and we the masses- Lenin’s “useful idiots”- are mobilized by the various political parties which control our minds and  our consciences  to cite a more heinous crime committed in Jharkhand to play down the crime in Bihar, and vice versa. When Vyapam related murder in M P comes to be mentioned   it is countered by some other scandal in Bengal. We merely displace the awareness of what afflicts our particular situation by seeking solace in the fact that others are worse off.  
But even amidst the apathy, listlessness and an extraordinary passivity of society, the media is supposed to go on playing its role of alerting a comatose community to the various dangers that beset it. Consequently a small town journalist infiltrates the territory of criminal warlords with the only resources that he can pit against the mighty- his courage and an unflinching commitment to his profession. As one of the news papers reported Rajdeo Ranjan had allegedly procured a photograph showing a minister of the government paying obeisance to the incarcerated ‘leader ‘in Siwan jail which became viral. One must not jump the gun of the investigation in progress to establish the link but the act itself was fraught with great risk and the alleged photograph is of great public interest. Poor Rajdev believed that the mere awareness of such hobnobbing of the bigwigs would enrage the community to some form of radical reaction .But alas! Ours is not that kind of society; the people know it only too well how the system runs; who controls the levers of power; what territories are outlawed for the writ of law. And they are fine with it. Rajdev thought that he had prized out a precious gem; the society dismissed it as the merest piffle. The man who occupationally informed and educated public opinion was hopelessly out of touch with the latest news about the society he lived in!
Therein lies the tragedy of Rajdev (or any zealous police officer, civil servant, social activist and all those who still care for moral hygiene in public life)  and our guilt by acquiescence, by indifference, by apathy. We profess a particular set of principles and live by quite another; the naïve fall in the yawning gap between the pretence and the essence.Messangers of bad news are murdered; harbingers of good tidings  rewarded is the new normal.
 The post modernist media has moved beyond the archaic morality related to content, impartiality, objectivity, balance etc. With new patterns of media ownership and control they have broken free and the earlier (self imposed)  notions of accountability on their relation to the political system.  The very top of the pyramid now lines up for the privilege of washing the feet of the powerful and wealthy with soda water and unguents, whatever the provenance of such power or wealth. Prominent news anchors become single issue publicists, prime time celebrities double up as secret agents for   corporate world and influential columnists become powerbrokers and pimps of politicians. They make hay while the poor, ill paid reporter on the beat dies for a lost cause. The media today is like a train in which the different compartments are headed for separate destinations. Rajdev boarded the wrong compartment. To that extent we who knew it and did not warn him are collectively the guilty party. 

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Corruption in Public Life and The Absconding God

( “The act of God” remark in the context of the Calcutta bridge collapse and the  indigence senior civil servants and police officers as reflected in their property statements triggered these musings. Some of the remarks and statements have appeared in my interviews or articles published elsewhere. After all you can’t have something new to say everyday on the  timeworn old issue of corruption. )

Eradicating corruption is an impossible task.Impossible, because it would be a suicidal act for the governments, for the political system, for the society; and suicides are not the norm. Apart from the practical difficulties there are important objective, historical reasons for it. The integrity of a people depends upon their social and cultural context. Scandinavian societies tend to be more honest; the societies in the Indian subcontinent fall far short of the ideal. Our system of values favour clientelism, favouritism and nepotism (Casteism, is the main culprit but of that later). Problems of corruption are also rooted in structural causes; they are inscribed in the pattern of governance. The system we have inherited was created to encourage corruption and suits us fine too.

We may be a corrupt people but on the scale of hypocrisy and self image we must award ourselves full marks. Under populist pressure and competitive moralistic posturing the definition of corruption has been steadily enlarged just as the moral stature of public servants has diminished in equal measure. More and more areas of conduct of public servants are being labeled as corrupt. Stringent corruption laws are being brought on the statute book setting extravagant public goals and giving rise to enormous public expectations. The issue of corruption naturally comes to occupy the centre stage of public concerns and governments who are dead keen not lose support need to be seen to be doing something. The idealistic ambition and puritan rage are writ large in our approach to anti – corruption strategies. 

 At the same time impracticable, unenforceable laws are made for no other reason than that we have elected lawmakers and progressively there has been a radical contraction of the formally unregulated space yielding ever greater areas of our concern to bureaucratic scrutiny and control.  As if this was not a bad enough thing in itself, poorly drafted rules and regulations open up many more opportunities of rent seeking and bribery.

 In a crony capitalistic order in an advanced stage of state capture, “society naturally divides itself into the very few and the many” according to the “unequal faculties of acquiring property” of its constituents. Such a differentiation of traits is most likely to occur in civil servants, politicians, powerbrokers, pimps, and all others who owe their ascent to nontraditional means of economic climbing- proximity to power. The several fold increase in public spending dramatically enlarges the “corruptive interface “.The poverty alleviation programmes not only do not alleviate the poverty of the poor as pollute the public space. (See my “The Poor Must Prevail”

How do democratic governments handle so many contradictions? As a matter of public policy they resort to what, Leo Strauss calls “necessary lie” wherein, the rulers, in a bid to displace awareness from what is terrible or inescapable in our lives, feed the people fables to keep them peaceful and pacified. Anti corruption strategies are palliatives, reduce public anxiety and assuage their sentiment. Hence zero tolerance to corruption becomes the avowed goal of governments with exaggerated self image.

 Officers manning the anti corruption / vigilance outfits know the futility of it.  That is why they do not not take the official anti corruption policy proclamations of the government too literally. Too well aware that even people in the highest echelons are corrupt, they nevertheless allow ourselves to be used as props in this absurd theatre. Every day news papers are full of stories of lowly government servants being arrested accepting petty sums of bribe. It is presumed that such a strategy of making an example of the lowest of the low works, even if nobody believes in them. In fact the “knowers”know that a cynical attitude towards it is what is actually required; for   the zero tolerance policy to be taken seriously and acted upon in right earnest is what would be catastrophic   both for the government as well as the naïve civil servant.  I learnt it the hard way, too late in the day in fact, to benefit from it.
Our politicians are clever, inventive fabulists. Making public the assets of all the public servants including that of the Chief Minister is one such latest and deeply layered fable. It is also the supreme exemplar of the idea of “necessary lie”.  Implicit in this move are several fallacious assumptions but its sheer capacity to mesmerize the common man makes it a potent tool of propaganda. For one thing, is it being suggested that the dishonest public servant will grab this offer of the government and invite for public inspection all the fruits of his forbidden pursuit? The other equally comic notion is that the people, once they are aware, each one of them would assume the role of amateur investigators, and try to dig out the unaccounted property paving the way for prosecution under the PC Act for disproportionate assets. The mother of all fallacies is that the issue of corruption is treated as   an ‘idealist’ problem of knowledge. The mere awareness of corruption would trigger radical resistance in the people. The truth is quite the contrary. The people know it only too well. They realize that corruption is the ghost in machine which runs the system.  There is no point antagonizing it beyond a point, if at the end of the day one has to live with it .Some would merely leave the corrupt to be punished by God.In such a context, is it any wonder that falling bridges are called acts of God; non performing loans worth a million crores of rupees, or the coal scam and many others scams may equally be called acts of God .No wonder again that God, unable to answer so many charges has absconded from our midst.

 But come March and we celebrate the great festival of lies when the public servants of all hues  declare their assets with great fanfare ; the public servants lie collectively; the government proudly displays the lying product of their ingenuity; the media enthusiastically propagate it; and we the people consume it with great relish. What endless source of mirth and merriment do the disclosures provide? And, Oh! how much more comfortable is to escape to the enormous bubble of lie where at least corruption has been banished and the  poor uncomplaining, slaving public servants live within their means.   

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Leave The Kids Alone

JNU has made great contribution to the  cause of learning  in India; it  has  also  played a seminal role in  the life of significant contention- the  proper calling  of intellectuals  – over the years but sadly the students of this premier university  are  being discussed for their intellectual daring which extended no further than a pledge to dismember their own  motherland  and a clever  application  of  their  assiduously acquired knowledge of “subaltern studies and dialectical materialism” to fox  and hoodwink plain, blunt policeman. To these inestimable achievements one more has been added – it has produced an orator of outstanding merit in Kanhaiya Kumar. Kanhaiya’s  very significant omission of Chandrasekhar in his speech, a former JNU student union president, who had stirred the conscience of people of Bihar by his fearless fight in favour of the lowest of the low against criminal warlords  shows  great awareness  of currents and cross currents of contemporary politics even before he has entered the choppy waters. Chandrasekhar’s martyrdom had got mixed up with issues of pragmatic politics. His cause was just, but he was not too careful in the choice of the enemy!

The political parties are no doubt celebrating but would it be mere intellectual Ludditism or cussedness to raise the very quotidian, very banal but very topical issue?  Even though as a body of thought Marxism still provides useful insights in the way our world works, one thinks much less of it than  what was thought of decades ago. It now belongs to the archeological museum of the history of knowledge.  The university famous for its “left-Centric student politics” burdens the participants with a certain intellectual and moral posture. “Once a JNU student, always an activist” is perhaps too optimistic a view which may not be shared by all.  They are not scarred for life by their brief flirtation with the precious ideology at the university. People like Chandrasekhar, and others of his tribe are the precious drops in the ocean.  Most others are absorbed in the job market as IAS officers, journalists, politicians and professors, coping with the compulsions of their respective professions with sweet docility, just like everyone else.

 The torrent of writings about  JNU by former students, teachers and those currently studying there- every media outlet is keen to air their views- confirms me in my belief that the government overestimated their dangerousness.  Yogendra K Alagh, former Vice Chancellor of JNU has to say (In the Mumbai edition it is captioned Argumentation is JNU’s Power) (HT Feb 24, 2016). “This is the reason that JNU students do so well in the UPSC exams for the higher civil services. I found out when I chaired a committee set up to develop the recruitment and training policies for the higher civil services. They are all trained in disciplined argumentation and would breeze through any discussion.” .The university is known to have a long tradition of alumni who now occupy important political and bureaucratic positions.”Wikipedia

JNU attracts a large number of students form backward states, notably Bihar, who come here aspiring to make it to the IAS or other service but are swept off their feet by the grandeur of the setting as this lyrical outburst of one of the former students suggests, “Entering JNU, for me, was like entering a zone of freedom, overwhelming freedom. At the very first glance, JNU was like a vast expanse to spread one’s wings in — long-winding roads and overgrown valleys, the facility of being outdoors late into the night (what that could mean to a young girl!), milling in and around the library till 11 pm, mess meetings (no pun intended) after dinner, the chance to befriend anyone from anywhere, any class, caste or nationality (thanks to JNU’s admission system based on multiple deprivation points), and above all, the possibility of falling in love across all social barriers…… In JNU, we learnt quickly, through our little adventures and misadventures, the profoundly serious lesson that a free mind depended on a physically and socially free spaceWe also felt morally tortured by the fact of our privilege as JNU students. To compensate, we became involved in politics outside campus” . 

Living like royalty at tax payers’ expense, lording over a thousand-acre campus which could easily house at least two dozen average universities, or ten thousand primary schools for poor children- all their comforts taken care of at a parasitically low rate, they are bound to develop a self-image and feel driven to live by this image of themselves.  “Morally tortured by the fact of our privilege as JNU students. To compensate, we became involved in politics outside campus”.  Their protest is, indeed, an acid by product of privilege and good living.

That helps me connect with my memories of ten, twelve years back when I was invited to the Patna University. On my return journey  I made a detour to visit the hostel where I had spent two years as an undergraduate boarder long time ago. Not that things were princely then but now the place was in complete shambles. I came across a group of students loitering in the corridor, introduced myself to them and tried to start a conversation. It is always invigorating to know what the young people are reading, thinking, what are their aspirations, how do they feel about the world around them. My queries were met with brief dismissive answers. All that they wanted me was to speak to the authorities, to get something done. Now I wonder whether their revolutionary ardour was stilled by pedestrian concerns like toilets, and mending of leaky roofs, the appointment of another mess contractor because the old one had run away and they were forced to eat outside!

  Exploring this theme further in my imagination I wondered whether the charismatic teachers, if by some magic were transplanted in this dismal setting, would they still be able to ignite the same intellectual curiosity, the same iconoclastic impulse or “a free mind depended” necessarily, “on a physically and socially free space.”

  Brecht suddenly made sense to me,

 “Among the highly placed.
It is considered low to talk about food.
The fact is: they have
Already eaten.

The lowly must leave this earth
Without having tasted
Any good meat.”

 I had quoted another former JNU student in my last post, who abandoned his faith to quit the ABVP, who spoke of a Brahminical order of intellectual hierarchy in which the Marxists were at the top and everybody else at the bottom. Those who fight for the rights of the underprivileged, for the Dalits of the social order were equally assertive of their rights to keep the ideologically unsophisticated – the Dalits of the intellectual order- and all shades of the  "other" at bay.  This may itself be a form of “unfreedom” because if the avant-garde of the university thinks it is freedom to promote the dismemberment of the nation, some people may claim the right to be retrograde, revanchist, superstitious, reactionary.

 The arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar is one act of folly that the government will repent at leisure. How much of it was professional ineptness, how much the eagerness of a retiring police commissioner anxious to please, and how much of it was an administration under onus to be seen as decisive, I cannot tell. But we have a full blown controversy which, if it has lowered the image of the government, it has not left JNU totally unscathed either. The best course would have been to leave the kids alone. They are such a privileged lot that they will seek police help for making revolution!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Left Is Right. Right is Wrong?

Kanhaiya Kumar’s totally uncalled for arrest and slapping of the charges of sedition etc. have clouded the issue to  further the interest of the elements the government claims to rein in. But before we discuss the issue it would be worthwhile to recapitulate the basic facts of the story which have been told and retold and changed somewhat in every telling.  No one has come up yet with the theory that there were two editions of Kanhaiya. Otherwise every fact, every video clipping comes in two versions. You can take your pick.

It is beyond dispute that a group of students in the JNU organised a “cultural” evening to celebrate the death anniversary of the martyred Afzal Guru. To an overwhelmingly large number of Indians, he was a terrorist and enemy of the Indian state. Political leaders across the divide had endorsed this view in the immediate aftermath of the attack. The “cultural artists” chanted their determination to fight till the destruction of the Indian state, and felt ashamed that the killers of Afzal were still alive. They concluded by invoking the blessing of Allah for this project. The slogans need to be quoted in full for the enlarged meaning of “cultural activities”.

पाकिस्तान जिंदाबाद,
गो इंडिया गो बैक,

भारत की बर्बादी तक जंग रहेगी जारी,
कश्मीर की आजादी तक जंग रहेगी जारी,

अफजल हम शर्मिंदा हैं, तेरे कातिल जिन्दा हैं;
तुम कितने अफजल मारोगे, हर घर से अफजल निकलेगा:

अफजल तेरे खून से इंकलाब आएगा,

अल्लाह हो अकबर,
भारत तेरे टूकड़े होंगे इंसा अल्लाह, इंसा अल्लाह"

Kanhaiya Kumar later distanced himself from the shouting of these slogans and condemned this act. The evening, he said, was meant to commemorate Dr. Ambedkar and reaffirm faith in Indian constitution.

Afzal Guru the “martyr”, was hanged to death when the Congress government was in power, after the entire range of curative options available to an accused in a polity governed by due process of law – from the trial court to the mercy petition    before the President of India - were exhausted. Having failed to get a favourable verdict, few would dare indulge in public denunciation of the most sacred of our institutions.  Democracy is about building institutions; institutions work in tandem with other institutions and they have to be invested with authority by reposing faith in them and not wrecking them for perceived wrongs. That is our share of the democratic burden. Dr. Ambedkar must have turned in his grave to hear the public denunciation of all that we hold sacred.

 Lenin used to ask ironically: “Freedom -- yes, but for whom? To do what?”. The idea of free speech is so seductive that it seems wimpish to even suggest caution or moderation in the exercise of this sacred right, but we must wonder whether the democratic idealism provides a standpoint outside of itself to wreck and demolish its very foundational values. No law was violated in the chanting of these slogans, agreed, but are societies run by decrees alone? Are we subject to the prohibition of laws alone? There are no laws against incest. Should that then become an acceptable behaviour? Does good sense and consideration for the feelings of others not curb our freedom of action? I hear that declaring oneself to be anti-national has become the new normal for the enlightened beings, but there are people who would rather be seen dead than being dubbed anti national. If we inhabit a shared space, we have to consider each other’s sensibilities.  Kanhaiya Kumar was not unaware of this, as his subsequent condemnation of the incident shows. What was then the mainspring of his action?

 According to an apostatic ABVP member there is a hierarchy of intellectual order in the JNU; the Brahminical order consists of those from St. Stephen and Presidency College. Cerebral, articulate and fluent in the langua franca of power discourse – English –  their minds organised by the fundamentals of Marxism, they enjoyed  hegemony till the upstart ABVP types gate-crashed – perhaps riding pillion on the rise of the rightist politics. “Students in JNU’s history centre divided informally along class lines early on. Apart from a few exceptions, those from elite colleges like St Stephen’s in Delhi and Presidency in Kolkata turned left, while those from small towns were splintered among the left, the ABVP and the Congress’s student wing, the National Students’ Union of India. Apart from my background, it also seemed to me that falling in line with the left would mean acceptance of this intellectual hierarchy. Spurning the system seemed enticing.”

 Kashmir is very much on the minds of the Indian people. The ethnic cleansing of the Kashmiri Pandits is an equally emotive issue for an overwhelming number of Indians, but it has  never seized the imagination of the progressively oriented JNU( or has it?) because it  does not command as  much traction as  liberation of Kashmir. If we argue by results they were dead right. JNU has become a global symbol of resistance and Kanhaiya Kumar, a nondescript entity from Bihar with no past to reckon with, is suddenly a martyr to the cause of  democracy. Secure in the knowledge that aggressive and institutionally entrenched national and global elite well-versed in the vernacular of law, who exert a tremendous pressure on politics will intervene on their behalf  makes  such gestures risk profitable. Prashant Bhushan has offered his services voluntarily; the likes of Arundhati Roy and Chomsky have given him the thumbs up. If the exercise of freedom of speech was this rewarding, who would flinch form murder?  The intellectually unsophisticated security personnel guarding the parliament building seemed to have laid down their lives quite gratuitously when martyrdom comes so cheap. 
 As an Egyptian poet said,
“What have we not done for our fatherland.
Some have laid down their lives , some made speeches.”