Is It Fair To Blame The Farmers For The Price Rise?

ag_imgFarming is considered a patriotic enterprise, and nearly half of India’s labor force is engaged in agriculture and allied activities. Almost everyone believes that in the election season, political parties should pledge to aid this patriotic endeavor to feed the nation.

After the Indian independence, the annual production of agricultural goods has risen many folds. At the same time, the prices of agricultural products have risen many folds too. In surveys, inflation is on the top of the list of the scourges that anger the Indian voters. Except for a short period in the early 2000s, inflation in independent India has always been high. How could agricultural productivity and prices rise simultaneously, year after year? It is surprising that such obvious questions have not occurred to the policy analysts who take such claims at face value. The prices rise when there is more money chasing fewer goods. Remember that even in 2008, when the then President Bush complained about rising global food prices, the average inflation in the United States was only 3.8 percentage. This was the highest in that decade. If this were fueled by the global economic crisis, it would have affected other countries too. But, in the countries were central banks are independent and have an inflation target, the inflation rates were often ridiculously low. India would not have found an inflation of 3.8 percentage worth losing sleep over. In its history, India has almost never seen such low levels of inflation.

But, if so many people produce so little as they claim, perhaps not many people should engage in farming. A short evening on a farm might have convinced the panegyrists of the past that the farmers themselves might not agree with their romantic view of the farmer.

Read my column in DNA.

Does Corporate Funding Undermine Democracy?

what-corporate-structure-is-best-for-startups-considering-vc-funding--29abbcca4cWhen I was in school, during the school elections, the candidates distributed notebook labels and similar “gifts” among younger children. When the catholic nuns found out, we were asked to fork over those goodies. But, they could have bought us only if we were up for sale. Democratic politics is not any different. 

It is perhaps true that politicians can buy voters with a 10 Rupee or 100 Rupee coupons. But, no one compels voters to vote for the politicians who distribute cash and liquor. It is not hard for a man to accept liquor from the local politician and still have a healthy contempt toward him, and punish him. When I once tried to shirk during college elections, a candidate’s supporters chauffeured me to college. To punish these hooligans, I voted for his opponent. I did not tell anyone because I feared that they might retaliate. The point is that for the voter, political virtue is almost free. No one knows what he does inside the polling booth. But, even that he evades. He finds it hard to do the right thing even when it does not cost him a single paisa.  

If the voters have such “soft hearts” and “soft heads”, virtue in democratic politics is forbiddingly expensive. Asking politicians to change is a lot like nagging a brick wall. Indian politicians—or politicians anywhere for that matter—are not known for their decency. It is worse than a waste of time to ask them to act against their own self interest.

Read my column in DNA.

In Defense Of The Passive Citizen

05TH_NOTA_1777943fWhen an auto rickshaw driver in Karnataka ferried people to the polling booths for free on the Election Day, the media called him a great philanthropist. But, is it self-evident that it is a virtue to vote? 

The mainstream media celebrates the phenomenon of the people who do not even know their own age registering their opinion on complex policy matters. They are, after all, eager to vote. The underlying logic is irrefutable: “If ignorance does not stop the passengers from pushing the buttons and pulling the levers of the air craft, this must be noble. At least, they are doing something.” 

But, it is not hard to understand why the admirers of democracy love greater participation. It fits in well with their vision. Their heart lies with the real India waiting to get in, but is still being kept out by the elite. They think that ordinary masses will not go away. It might be their only hope, but they have something called the vote which will humiliate their betters. The Day of Judgment will come once in every five years.

While the middle class and the rich are busy partying, they will march to the polling booth in hordes and push the button, throwing all the rascals out. It would be quite an inspiring sight! 

This is quite a vision. It is also a vision that never materialised in its full glory. Or, perhaps it did, in an ironically grotesque manner. Lalu Prasad Yadav once said: “From a buffalo back, I have landed into the gut of a helicopter. This is democracy.” It is not open to argument whether he was right. What is open to argument is whether this can be considered a merit of democratic politics. 

Read my column in DNA.

In Defense Of The Wimp

manmohan-singh-614-3Babies are deeply idealistic about love, because their prospects of mating are quite low on the probability scale. The voters who mock Manmohan Singh for being a wimp are in the position of the babies who hold others to such highly scrupulous standards in romantic love. Many Indians would want to replace him with a strong, decisive leader, but at best, this means that they are spoilt babies.

The average Indian feels no compulsion to yield to the whims of Sonia Gandhi because she does not order them around. He feels no compulsion to not hold strong opinions, because it is virtually free. Not bound by such constraints, he longs to be a Rajah who would smash everything that would stand in the way of creating paradise on earth. But, the truth is that he is not a Rajah and is not likely to be a Rajah anytime soon. He does not have self-knowledge.

But, it is hard for the Prime Minister to have such fantasies. It is hard for him to “man up”, because he derives his power from Sonia Gandhi, and not from public opinion. There are obstacles to overcome, and these obstacles are real. He has to overcome the inertia of his allies and masters. This is especially true, because Manmohan Singh is an economist, and probably has more sensible views. The more sensible your views are, the less you can afford to be a chutzpahnick.

Read my column In Defense Of Manmohan Singh in DNA

Why Do Liberal Intellectuals Hate Narendra Modi?

CM_Narendra_Damodardas_ModiIf the admirers of democracy were honest, they would have rejoiced when a tea-seller becomes the Prime Minister. If they were consistent, they would have considered this the logical end result of democratic politics. But, they do not. The liberal intellectuals and journalists still treat Narendra Modi like a pariah. It is perhaps true, as they say, that Narendra Modi is a philistine whose understanding of the world is limited to his narrow experiences. But, they do not realise that the same tribute could be paid to almost any voter. Why is this considered a virtue in the voter- a sign of his incorruptibility – and a vice in Narendra Modi?

For liberal intellectuals, it is very tempting to blame Modi for the “politics of hatred”. But, is there any good reason to assume that the vast ethnic massacres, ethnic cleansing and forced sterilisations that underscored post-Independence India like a long trail of blood has nothing to do with the “politics of hatred”? 

But then, it is worse than a waste of time to blame politicians. Without pandering to popular prejudices, they would not have been elected to power. But, the common man could have easily taken reasonable steps to avoid political ignorance. After all, he has nothing to lose. The liberal intellectuals themselves could have read an elementary text on Economics. They too have nothing to lose, except their friends and those positions of power and influence.

Read my column in DNA.