My guest post on Dilip D’Souza’s blog

A common bank of votes and notes

As the ghastly chapter of the terrorist attack on Mumbai came to an end, long time reader Jai_Choorakkot wrote to Dilip D’Souza, Rohit Pradhan and me suggesting that posting on each others’ blogs would be a great way to show that Indians are united on fundamental issues. So here, on Dilip’s invitation is my take on what we—as individuals and citizens—could do in the wake of the terrorist attacks. To keep the discussion in one place, do leave your comments there too.

Dr Reddy’s life-saving medicines

Independent institutions under independent individuals

Joe Nocera’s piece in the New York Times crediting Y V Reddy, former governor of the Reserve Bank of India, for pursuing policies that (relatively) insulated the Indian banking system from the global financial crisis, has some of India’s top bankers sounding like people looking back at their adolescence and thanking their strict parents or school principals for, well, being strict parents or school principals.

Now that those risks have been made painfully clear, every banker in India realizes that Mr Reddy did the right thing by limiting securitizations. “At times like this, you tend to appreciate what he did more than we did at the time,” said (Yes Bank founder Rana) Kapoor. “He saved us,” added (HDFC chief Deepak) Parekh. [NYT]

Now, a few experts, like V Anantha Nageswaran, have been arguing that Dr Reddy’s exemplary stewardship of the RBI was among the few bright spots in India’s economic management in the last five years. And as events proved, they were right.

Beyond individuals though, the underlying point is that independent institutions can deliver competent governance in their mandated areas even under bad governments. Of course, even independent institutions can be undermined over time, by packing them with less than independent-minded individuals. And that, unfortunately, might well be on the cards. The tenacious Dr Reddy is no more at the crease. The Election Commission could fall into the hands of Naveen Chawla, who the Shah Commission declared “unfit to hold any public office which demands an attitude of fair play and consideration for others.”

By invitation: How can we be sure Dr Singh has answers?

V Anantha Nageswaran

TN Ninan’s weekend rumination on Manmohan Singh’s purported successes on the external front is disappointing for two reasons: it does not make any useful point and it is misleading. The ongoing global financial and economic crisis is neither about global financial regulation nor its architecture.

In all fairness—whether or not Dr Singh was and is a great economist is beside the point—his tenure this time around, even after the Communists left the alliance, has not exactly been inspiring. He might not have been able to carry the day with his proposals. But he could have, at least, articulated the change, the vision and the blueprint that India needs, thus helping whoever comes after him (or himself) when conditions turn more propitious. The only thing we know is that he missed the Communists in his coalition. Continue reading “By invitation: How can we be sure Dr Singh has answers?”

Sarkozy wrong

States should only care about the interests of their own citizens

There is much to admire about Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s energetic president. But what he said to the Russian president after ‘mediating’ in Russo-Georgian war was simply wrong:

“It’s perfectly normal that Russia would want to defend the interests both of Russians in Russia and Russophones outside Russia,” Sarkozy said. [AFP, emphasis added]

There is no question that Russia is entitled to defend the interests of its citizens in Russia or anywhere else on and over the planet. But to extend this to Russian-speaking people around the world would be to strike at the fundamentals of the international system. Now France does attach importance to Francophones—allegedly going to the extent of abetting a genocidal regime in Rwanda to keep Anglophones at bay—but that’s no reason for it to become some sort of an international norm.

Would Mr Sarkozy appreciate Saudi Arabia intervening in French riots on behalf of Arabic speakers? Clearly not—during his earlier job as interior minister, he created special institutions to ensure that what happens in France stays in France.

Related Post: French Sikhs are French

Killed by bad policy

A thousand Lalit Mehtas will risk their lives fighting corruption. And how entirely avoidable this could have been.

There is an outcry over the murder of Lalit Mehta, an upright public-minded citizen, who was allegedly killed while attempting to expose the corruption in the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) in Palamau, Jharkhand. The public attention should help focus attention on the crime and bring the guilty to justice.

The murder provides a convenient excuse for proponents of the dubious scheme to reiterate their argument that the NREGS is being undermined by corruption. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Jean Drèze, the scheme’s chief proponent, have already done it. It is easy for Dr Drèze to blame the intermediaries and district officials for Mr Mehta’s brutal killing. But those who designed the system—and that includes Dr Drèze—can’t escape their share of the blame.

Any fool can design a scheme that would work if only there were no dishonest people in the world. As The Acorn has argued, the way the NREGS is designed creates huge new incentives for corruption. The proponents claim that the controls they had put in to check corruption would somehow work better than the controls that had been put in place to check corruption in the past. It should be clear to everyone by now that those controls don’t work. They only put good people like Mr Mehta in harm’s way.

Let’s remember now that among the UPA government’s acts of monumental irresponsibility ranks the extension of the NREGS to all districts in India, despite knowing that it is not quite working as touted. There are hundreds of Palamaus out there and thousands of Mr Mehtas will face threats to life and limb. These would have been avoidable with some clear thinking, competent policy design and responsible leadership.

In fact bad policy design only compounds a more fundamental flaw: bad policy vision. As Rohit Pradhan notes, the NREGS is designed to keep people in villages. And as Atanu Dey writes, it is also a scheme that is designed to keep them poor.

Inconsequential?

Mani Shankar Aiyar’s freudian slip

Towards the end of his lecture on “inclusive growth through inclusive governance” (yes, yes, the title tells the tale), Mani Shankar Aiyar says:

I speak for the inconsequential Indian, the unsuccessful Indian, but also for the Indian who crucially determines the outcome of the democratic process. [The Hindu]

The Indian voter, in other words, is inconsequential according to Mr Aiyar, even after ‘crucially determining the outcome of the democratic process’.

Isn’t it at once apt and ironic that Mr Aiyar should say this in a lecture on inclusive governance?

Incitement to murder

…must be punished

There is an urgent need to crack down hard on ‘leaders’ (especially in Uttar Pradesh) who issue public calls for assassination.

In the Gurjjar stronghold of Sarsawa in Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur district, Akhil Bharatiya Gurjjar Mahasabha president Chaudhary Virendra Singh has put Rs 5 crore reward on Vasundhara Raje’s head. “The Rajasthan CM is a murderer, responsible for the death of innocent activists,” said Singh. [IE]

The reporter’s next question is truly bizarre.

When asked as to who would arrange for a sum as hefty as Rs 5 crore, Singh claimed that the entire community would collect money to reward “the brave man who would behead her”. [IE]

Monumental folly

A statue to end all your troubles

A bunch of violent thugs attacked the residence of Kumar Ketkar, editor of Loksatta for writing a satirical piece criticising the Maharashtra government’s decision to engage in monumental folly. In support of Mr Ketkar’s freedom to write what he thought was right, and in support of writing what was right, here are excerpts from the English translation of his editorial.

Naturally, the government felt that having solved all the problems of the people, what remains to be done is to tell the whole world of the greatness of Shivaji. The government has decided to have more than one acre of land inside the sea acquired and filled so as to build the monument, which will attract all global tourists. All facilities will be given to the tourists. There will be a museum near the statue, artifacts of the 17th century, Shivaji’s personal effects, swords and shields and attire. There will also be directives issued by the Maharaj to his administrators on how to govern and make the people happy. Along with the museum, there will be shopping malls, selling T-shirts with Shivaji’s painting. There will be Shivaji key chains, Shivaji gift items, including cutlery.

Of course, there will be no beer bars. So obviously, there will be no dance bars, which the Deputy Chief Minister R.R. Patil detests so much. There will be perhaps wine, which according to the leader of NCP, Sharad Pawar, is not alcohol. So wine will be sold and served along with Coke and Pepsi and other soft drinks. There will be swadeshi McDonald’s as well as vintage Marathi vada-pau, which has been renamed by Uddhav Thackeray as ‘Shiv Vada-Pau’. There will also be ‘pani puri’ sold by the MNS activists of Raj Thackeray. No ‘bhaiyyas’ will be allowed to do business, only locals will be engaged. [IE]

Those concerned about Maharashtra and Mumbai need to explain their quiescence when the plans to revitalise Mumbai city and to turn into into an international financial centre were put in cold storage.

Having nothing much to show for its term in power, the Congress Party-led government is merely stoking up Marathi-chauvinism to distract public attention ahead the coming elections. Voters in Maharashtra should see through the trick.

Pragati June 2008: The New Jihadis

Issue 15 - Jun 2008
Issue Contents

PERSPECTIVE

The New Jihadis
Local manifestations of a global pattern
Nitin Pai

Getting human rights right
Are human rights activists playing into the hands of
terrorists?
Sandeep Balakrishna, Salil Tripathi & Rohit Pradhan

Towards a cultural liberalism
Governments must stop siding with intolerant mobs
Jayakrishnan Nair

FILTER

A survey of think-tanks
Feline counter-terrorism; Measuring up against international human rights standards; On what makes foreign policy tick; Assessing energy security policies

IN DEPTH

Look before you hop

A discussion on strategic affairs with Stephen P Cohen
Nitin Pai & Aruna Urs

IN PARLIAMENT

A review of Budget Session 2008
Kaushiki Sanyal

ROUNDUP

Where is the financial superhighway?
Two reports later, there is still no movement on reforms
Aadisht Khanna

Improving economic literacy
Effective delivery of public services requires sound public policy education
Mukul G Asher & Amarendu Nandy

A food credit card scheme
How microfinance and the public distribution scheme can work together
Ankit Rawal

BOOKS

History is in the writing
The changing fashions of recording history
Sunil Laxman

Read excerpts | Download

Toasting the UPA’s four years in power

Notes from a party-goer

And you must read Saakshi Dutta’s post:

I wanted to go to the UPA party, and since I do not belong to any party which Congress can form a coalition with, I had to fight hard for it. Finally, the only condition imposed upon me was to come in Khadi. I also gained permission to make a toast to the 4 years bygone. I prepared hard and long to prepare a list of achievements that the UPA had made and wrote them in the book that I carried that day. [Saakshi—Tracking Thoughts]