Posts Tagged ‘Liberalisation’

Scams, scams, scams: Has liberalisation worked?

18 November 2010

It’s raining scams here, there, everywhere.

A. Raja and 2G, Suresh Kalmadi and CWG, Ashok Chavan and B.S. Yediyurappa and land allotment, Lalit Modi and IPL, Vikram Akula and microfinance, Madhu Koda and the Reddy brothers, and so on and so forth.

But this is only the favour of the current season. Last year, it was Pinrayi Vijayan and Lavlin, Ramalinga Raju and Satyam, and so on and so forth.

For nearly 20 years now, corruption has skyrocketed to stratospheric levels, cutting across States, party lines, ideologies, affecting not just the three estates of the legislature, executive and the judiciary, but also business, industry, stock exchanges, cinema, sport, media, academics, and almost everything else in Indian society.

Was it supposed to be this way?

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr in DNA:

“The great hope of economic liberalisation was that government will be less intrusive and dominant and that this would end not just the vice-like grip of politicians and bureaucrats over the lives of people but also mean less corruption.

“But this is one great hope that has been betrayed. It looks like that politicians and bureaucrats are still enjoying their power to dole out favours, whether it is mining or telecom licences, and that business folk find it useful and even profitable to cultivate the politicians and their minions in the government.

“Right from the Enron episode in the 1990s to the 2G spectrum allotment just goes to show that business is deeply involved in the corrupt system.”

Read the full column: The role of business in governmental corruption

CHURUMURI POLL: Say goodbye to socialism?

13 July 2010

The LPG—liberalisation, globalisation, privatisation—cylinder rolled out in 1991, notionally leaving behind the license-quote-permit raj that exemplified the socialist era. Yet, 19 years later, the Supreme Court has ruled out striking out the 42nd amendment that inserted allegiance to “socialism” as one of the prerequisites for parties seeking recognition to contest elections.

Although “market forces” are all around us, the SC has declined to entertain a public interest litigation seeking the removal of socialism as enshrined in Section 29-A of the representation of people Act which mandates that no political party would be registered by Election Commission unless it bore “true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established and to the principles of socialism, secularism and democracy.”

The SC’s contention is that even the parties that were responsible for getting the State to vacate the “commanding heights” of the economy, had no objection to being asked to swear by “socialism”. And this, although Babasaheb Ambekdar had himself opposed the inclusion of the word “socialist” in the Constitution.

Questions: After 19 years of liberalisation, is it time to junk socialism from the Constitution? Or, in a poor country like ours, is socialism an ideal we must always aspire to, in spite of market forces? Are our parties right in sticking to socialism while succumbing to market forces? Or is this just an academic point of no interest to the aam admi?

From almost 100 out of 100 to, like, 2 out of 38

8 July 2010

Time was when the Ambassador, made by the decidedly nationalist sounding Hindustan Motors, was the official car of those suffering from the “Lal Bathi Syndrome” id est the political elite.

No longer.

At the Vidhana Soudha in Bangalore on Thursday, the red lights on top of vehicles provide a bird’s eye-view of how reforms broke the back of a Calcutta monopoly.

Except that the preferred colour remains white, although the affairs inside have become markedly black.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

‘The closest India got to Plato’s philosopher-king’

9 December 2009

After briefly toying with the idea of giving him his due—a clean chit in the Liberhan report; a major highway named after him in Hyderabad—the Congress party has suddenly but not unsurprisingly abandoned Pamulaparti Venkata Narasimha Rao high and dry.

Here, the veteran editor T.J.S. George pays the father of India’s liberalisation the tribute he so richly deserves.



Among the Prime Ministers of India, who was the most intellectually proficient?

The temptation is to point to Jawaharlal Nehru, the Cantabrigian who conversed with Bernard Shaw and Albert Einstein, who wrote classical books and masterpieces of English prose like the Tryst-with-destiny speech and the description of the Ganga in his last will and testament.

But, as in all human affairs, don’t glamour and charisma give an edge to Nehru’s appeal?

By the same token, doesn’t the complete absence of glamour and charisma in P.V. Narasimha Rao tend to hide his intrinsic worth? As Prime Minister PVN made himself notorious as the Mouna Muni, saying not a word when scandals rocked him and the country. His pouting lips were notorious too, but at least cartoonists loved them.

For all that, wasn’t he the finest intellectual who sat in the Prime Minister’s chair?

This is an inopportune time to bring up the subject of Narasimha Rao.

For one thing, the Gandhi dynasty’s penchant to bury non-dynasty leaders as immaterial has kept PVN in the forgotten category. Remember how his body was refused entry into the AICC headquarters, and how they turned down the family’s request for a site to bury him in the capital.

For another, Liberhan’s report on Babri Masjid demolition has revived memories of PVN’s inexcusable inaction when organised fanatics pulled down the mosque and unleashed a tidal wave of religious violence across the country.

But, inopportune or not, it has to be recognised that PVN remains in a class of his own as a thinker, writer and scholar.

His sense of humour was of the kind that only people of refined taste and erudition could have. A sample of this disarming attribute has just come to light through Mainstream weekly. In November 2003 he was to release a book on India-Pakistan by the late Nikhil Chakravartty, the most consequential editor of his generation. He was unable to do so and wrote the following explanation to Mainstream’s current editor and Nikhil’s son, Sumit:

“I am extremely sorry I cannot join you at your function on the 3rd. Because of excruciating back pain I have had to be admitted to the hospital just now. The treatment is simple: Lie on a flat bed, no one knows how long. There is no way I can move, except my moving along with my flat bed to the venue of the meeting. We are told that Lord Vishnu used to move along with his snake-bed, but I thought I would spare myself the responsibility of Godhood after what all I have already gone through as a human”.

Wit and wisdom came naturally to PVN, a master of thirteen languages who could read Greek, Latin and Sanskrit classics, impress Fidel Castro with his Spanish, speak Urdu stylishly, translate novels from Marathi to Telugu, from Telugu to Hindi, and give guest lectures in German and American universities.

He was an expert on classical military doctrines and a well-honed aficionado of music, cinema and theatre. He was the closest India got to Plato’s philosopher-king.

Look at the contrast.

Singularly unblessed men like Charan Singh and Deve Gowda have also sat in the prime ministerial chair. Ashok Gehlot’s Congress Government in Rajasthan today has a minister, Golma Devi, who could barely read her oath card and took three days to learn how to sign her appointment letter. And she is minister of state for nothing less than Home, Civil Defence and Rural Industries.

In Karnataka a wanton family that plunders the earth controls the Government. Unworthy men and women abound in Parliament. These are the realities that should make us grateful that a man like P.V.Narasimha Rao, warts and all, lived in our midst once upon a time.

Photograph: courtesy The Hindu

CHURUMURI POLL: Did the Left “save” India?

29 October 2008

Jatti kelage biddaroo meese mannu aaga-lilla, is an old Kannada saying. Meaning: the wrestler’s moustache was unsoiled even after he was floored.

The Indian left may be going through its worst phase ever. Its ruling government in West Bengal has been unable to retain the Tata Nano that landed in its lap. Despite its avowed secular credentials, it bowed to the fundamentalists and sent out Taslima Nasreen. In Delhi, the inflexible dogma of Prakash Karat saw the Left severing its support to the government over the Indo-US nuclear issue. And so on.

None of those realities seem to have prevented the communists from making one of the more brazen and bizarre claims in recent times. Namely, that it was their opposition that prevented the Manmohan Singh-Chidambaram combine from going the whole hog on banking and insurance reforms, full convertibility of the rupee, and deployment of pension funds in the stock markets. And this, they say, “insulated” India from the full impact of the global financial crisis.

Has India been saved, or has the salaried, unionised Indian middle class, the bourgeoisie, been saved? Are the communists talking through their hat, or is there a grain of truth to their claim? If communist policies have saved India, why hasn’t it saved China, whose stock markets are doing worse than in India? And if shutting the doors is a good idea to save ourselves from global shocks, should we close our economy?

‘Bomb blasts are now doing what riots used to’

2 October 2008

AMARESH MISRA writes from Bombay: The recent series of bomb blasts that have rocked India—a series which has become a proverbial dark tunnel where no end is in sight—denote a new pattern.

Till now communal riots were engineered by communal forces and the fascist part of the Indian state machinery to polarize society. This trend reached its apogee in the Gujarat 2002 riots.

The communal forces both inside and outside the Indian State machinery learnt some important lessons from Gujarat; chiefly that in this time and space, in the 21st century, it is very difficult to get away with organized pogroms. Ultimately you have to pay a political price which the BJP did in the 2004 elections.

The communal forces then conjured a new phenomenon: why not start engineering bombs first in Hindu dominated areas, and then in Muslim areas?

The trend began with the July 2006 Bombay serial train blasts in “Gujarati Hindu dominated” first-class compartments of the Bombay local train service; soon there were blasts in Muslim areas of Malegaon and Hyderbad.

In 2008, with elections just around the corner in April-May 2009, and the BJP getting relegated to the third position in electoral calculations in the post-nuclear deal vote phase, the bomb blast phenomenon has become endemic.

From July 2008 at the time of writing this piece here have been several blasts—in the past week, blasts have occurred almost daily.

One thing is clear: it is not that bomb blasts are being engineered to create communal riots. That (communal riots following bomb blasts) simply has not happened. The new mantra seems to be of bomb blasts replacing communal riots. This means that if in the past riots were engineered to create communal polarization the same kind of polarization is being sought to be created by engineering bomb blasts.

So the pattern: four blasts in a Hindu dominated area; then one or two in a Muslim dominated area. So Malegaon and Modesa after Bangalore, Ahmedabad and the two blasts in Delhi.

This is a foreign pattern for even Indian communal forces; this trend has been seen in areas where Mossad and CIA operate; a similar/exact phenomenon was seen in Lebanon where Beirut, a beautiful and cosmopolitan Asiatic city was turned into an arena of sectarian Muslim-Christian conflict with bomb blasts being engineered every day in respective Muslim-Christian areas, something which now even Hollywood films (see Spy Game) admit as a CIA ploy to destroy Lebanon.

The post-American invasion Iraq situation too sees a similar thing—of sectarian Shia-Sunni violence being generated by the bomb blast phenomenon, engineered by the CIA, private US mercenary firms like Blackwater and the US forces.

A third region is Pakistan where too blasts take place respectively, in Shia or Sunni, Sindhi or Mohajir, NWFP or Punjabi or Baluchi areas alternately and with regularity. Here the western game is clear: America and Israel have been working for decades to dismember Pakistan and control its nuclear arsenal.

India was spared of this ordeal till 1991 as Prime Ministers like Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, and even Rajiv Gandhi, did not allow Mossad-CIA penetration.

Before liberalization during Narsimha Rao‘s regime, Indian passport holders could not travel to two places: Israel and South Africa. India was at the forefront of the International crusade against apartheid and the denial of a homeland for Palestinians.

Why is it that after liberalization, which was initiated soon after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, India recognized Israel and established diplomatic relations, and then the Babri Masjid demolition incident occurred?

So three things are related: liberalization of the Indian economy, the change in Indian foreign policy from an anti-imperialist, pro-Third World position to a pro-American, pro-Israel stance, and the increasing persecution of Muslims, in an institutionalized form.

See that these three developments occur side by side, and now in 2008 we see India being turned into another Lebanon.

The biggest delusion of the RSS-BJP is that by blaming organizations like SIMI or Muslim “terrorists” for the recent blasts they are doing some service to the nation. On the contrary, by not exposing the foreign Mossad-CIA hand, they are going against the interests of India.

Why did the BJP-RSS not cry foul over the flight of Ken Haywood from India after the email sent by the so-called “Indian Mujahideen” group was traced to his computer in New Bombay?

Why was there no demand for a probe into the role of this dubious American national with shady evangelical, anti-Hindu and anti-Muslim connections in America? These connections can be seen by clicking on links like this, this or this or this, or even this or this.

Let this be very clear and sound today, supporting the persecution and the arrest and the torture of thousands of Muslim youth, is tantamount to being anti-national.

Today being anti-Muslim is tantamount to being anti-national.

What India needs today are not just protests. We need a special prevention of atrocities against minorities Act, something which makes refusal of housing and flats to minorities, refusal by a police officer to register a FIR by minorities, or to act in their protection, failure of a district magistrate or a senior superintendent of the police to prevent a riot or a bomb blast, the picking up of Muslims and other minorities without a formal charge, the very idea of detention of Muslim youths after blasts, or encounter killings, the calling of Muslms by the name Laandiya or Katua, a stringent crime with due punishment.

India already has a prevention of violence/atrocities against Scheduled castes act; it is a crime to call a Dalit a chamar; or not to register his or hers FIR. Why can’t a similar act, be enacted for the minorities?

In India the so-called war against terror, against SIMI or the Indian Mujahideen is a fictitious, bogus war. The recent bomb blasts were engineered by security forces, and foreign agencies and RSS-Bajrang Dal.

The real war is against Muslim/minority persecution, the appropriate response to Batla House type fake encounter killing, and the extension of civil liberties guaranteed in the Indian constitution.

See the history of nations:

In America and Europe mere constitutional guarantees were not enough. Specific new laws had to be enacted from time to time to abolish slavery, protect minorities, and end persecution, segregation and racism.

America passed through its civil rights moment in the 1960s. India has to confront its own civil rights moment now. There is a simple message to Indian liberals. Either support the demand for a special civil rights act for minorities or perish. For, soon the fascist forces persecuting Muslims will turn against you.

If there is a civil war in India on this issue, so be the case; in any case with direct American intervention in Pakistan, conflict between America and India is very near. Liberals do not understand this but the Indian army does. So there is bound to be a double civil war in India. One against foreign intervention in the Indian sub-continent and the other against anti-national fascist forces.

(Amaresh Misra is the author of Mangal Pandey: The true story of an Indian revolutionary (Rupa); Lucknow: Fire of grace (HarperCollins), and more recently War of Civilizations: India, South Asia, Europe and the World)

Also read: When my conspiracy theory is better than yours

Quick, spot the real face of India that is Bharat

27 August 2008

Amitabh Bachchan, of course, thinks that India is no longer a third-world country; that it is a developed one. But have economic reforms—the process of liberalistion, globalisation and privatisation that began in 1991—reduced poverty?

The World Bank’s latest estimates of global poverty show that every third poor person in the world lives in rising, shining India. Of the total 1.4 billion global poor, 33 per cent are here. Worse, poverty came down much faster between 1981 and 1990, than between 1991 and 2005.

According to the new estimates, 828 million people (or 75.6% of India’s population) live on less than $2 a day (approximately Rs 80). In contrast, in sub-Saharan Africa, 551 million people (or 72.2% of population) live on less than $2 a day.

1980: 421 million (60% of population) live on less than $1.25 (approximately Rs 50) a day mark

1990: 436 million (51% of population)

1999: 447 million (45% of population)

2005: 456 million people (42% of population)

Map: courtesy earthtrends; data from World Bank working paper 2003

Also read: Everybody loves a good number: 93, 77, 54, 33…

‘Rising India’s share of world’s poorest is growing’

Indians should never ask where on earth Gabon is

1991 liberalised economy, 2008 liberalised polity

21 July 2008

Towards draw of stumps on day one, Team Manmohan looks like it might score 271 in 20 hours. Or it might not.

But sometime in the year 2025, seventeen years from now, will we look at 2008 the same way we now look at a year 17 years before this one: 1991. As the year that altered our mindscapes and the landscape of our country.

As the year of Liberalisation 2.0.

With the benefit of hindsight, 1991 now seems like such an important, even essential thing for the country to have gone through. Out of compulsion if not choice, kicking and screaming, we opened our doors to let a blast of change blow through.

As Parliament burns the midnight oil on nuclear physics tonight, ponder this: would “Liberalisation 1.0” have passed muster in 1991 and would we be looking back at it the same way we do now if our MPs had adopted the same “rigorous” methods back then?

The biggest changes back then came within the first 100 days of the minority P.V. Narasimha Rao government taking over. There was no trust vote, therefore no debates like what we are seeing now.

It was a page straight out of “Shock Doctrine”.

There are plenty of honest critics of liberalisation even to this day, and it can be asked if it has really managed to erase the inherent inequity and inequality of our society, but there can be little doubt that 1991 was what Intel’s Andy Grove called the “strategic inflection point”.

Somebody had to do it.

Whether you are pro-nuclear deal or anti-nuclear deal; a Congress, BJP or Left supporter; an America lover or baiter, we are at a similar strategic inflection point.

1991 liberalised the economy; 2008 is poised to liberalise the polity. Behind both is Manmohan Singh. As benchmarks go, “India’s weakest PM since independence” has set a daunting one for all prime ministers in waiting.

Even an aye-vote on Tuesday might not help the Congress to win an election as it did not in 1996. Indeed, in giving Mayawati a pan-Indian image over just one weekend, the nuclear deal may have already taken the Dalits away from the Congress.

Add to that a tieup with Mulayam Singh along with an existing one with Lalu Prasad, and the Congress is staring at a mountain in the Hindi heartland, on top of a dozen or more defeats in State polls across the country.

But in achieving a perceptional shift in the minds of the middle-classes, in exorcising the ghost of the United States bang in the middle of our drawing rooms, Liberalisation 2.0 is as significant as Liberalisation 1.0.

It’s the sequel to beat all sequels.

True, the defections, the wheeling-dealing, the horse-trading, the favour-dispensing—and the sight of thugs, criminals, the sick and the dying being hauled in—make a joke of the “national interest”. But that applies as much to those pushing the deal as those opposing it.

Only Shibhu Soren’s support to a minority government, it seems, is the common strand between the two rounds of liberalisation. How odd can that be—and how very revealing of the maturity of our democracy, or the lack of it.

Maybe, it is too early to sing hosannas in praise of the liberalization of our politics. Maybe. But make no mistake. Tomorrow when the red and green buttons are pressed, Manmohan Singh’s vision is on test, sure, but it’s a bigger test for Prakash Karat & Co.

Liberalisation 2.0 doesn’t answer the grave questions about the independence of India’s foreign policy, about the subservience to the United States, about the deliverance of promises and so on, but in that respect it is no different from Liberalisation 1.0. It’s not the finished article.

It is possible that the impact of Liberalisation 2.0 will never be as personal and direct as Liberalisation 1.0. Against malls, mobiles and materialism, protons, neutrons and electrons don’t stand a chance.

Still, in 2025, the textbooks, unless they have been reworked, will have the same bold fonts for 1991 and 2008.

This piece also appears on

FDI + Indian universities = Infinite possibilities?

14 July 2008

NIKHIL MORO writes from Mount Pleasant, Michigan: With the Left betaal only recently shrugged off, a Parliamentary majority highly tenuous, and an energized BJP nipping at his heels, does Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have the energy to restart economic reform?

That may be anybody’s guess. But the education sector, so far immunized from WTO and GATS negotiations, is begging for a ceding of state control.

In a way it’s odd that private investment for profit should still be disallowed in education, particularly in higher education, after two decades of avowed liberalisation. Two decades is plenty of time to implement cultural safeguards. Investments by charitable trusts and religious institutions have been a trickle, and not universally appreciated.

The National Knowledge Commission seeks a nearly four-fold increase in the number of universities by 2015 for India to maintain any competitive edge. At present only about a tenth of college-age Indians are even enrolled in college; China’s comparable gross enrollment rate is two times that.

In order to increase India’s college GER to 15 per cent by 2015, the Knowledge Commission recommends that spending on higher education, which accounts for less than a sixth of the total spent in education, be doubled to at least 1.5 per cent of the GDP.

Even with limited non-government investment in higher education, nearly a third of college students are enrolled in institutions that receive no government aid.

Additionally, India is under pressure to enhance quality in the existing 350 postgraduate universities and their respective families of about 1,770 undergraduate colleges, which together constitute one of the world’s prodigious systems of higher education.

An average Indian university administers more than 100 affiliated colleges; a few universities administer as many as 400. It is akin to a poor family raising scores of demanding kids. India’s per capita spending on higher education, according to UNESCO figures, is one of the world’s lowest.

Members of the Knowledge Commission are aghast. They want some sort of “family planning” for universities – creating as many as 1500 smaller, “more nimble,” universities by 2015, each taking care of far fewer colleges and spending far more per student.

Clearly, immense investment in higher education is a need of the decade. 

Where the money? The government’s resources are already straining from the unmet challenge of universal literacy: India has 380 million illiterates, more people than the populations of the United States and Canada combined.

Other than raising public bonds, inviting investments from competing private entrepreneurs may be the only sustainable solution. John Elliott of Fortune estimates that investment potential to be $40 billion per year and to increase to three times that in a decade.

So what is the government doing?

Earlier in July, Harvard-educated science minister Kapil Sibal, during a visit to Bangalore, declared his intention to invite foreign direct investment (FDI) in higher education. Not just private but foreign too. Whether Sibal was speaking for the Union cabinet is unclear, but he sure got the Communists’ goat: Three weeks later, CPM secretary Prakash Karat pulled the rug from under the government, albeit over the nuclear agreement.

(Ah, was that a grin crossing Mr. Sibal’s countenance?)

So what might be some implications of opening the sluice gates of higher education to private and foreign investment?

# Dollars/Euros would fund the pursuit of applied, high-demand, subjects (biotechnologies, informatics, telecommunications, chemical engineering, etc).  Some investment would go to the humanities (law, mathematics, philosophy), a trickle to the social sciences (psychology, political science, linguistics) and whatever remains to vocational/trade subjects (aviation, metal work, information technology, etc).

# Academy-industry ties would turn more universities, to a larger extent, into petri-dishes of corporations. R&D activities would migrate from corporations to universities due to lower costs. So more active campuses, more rigorous program requirements, more robust degree programs. Result? More patents and other intellectual property, which in turn would attract even more investments, more trickle-down returns.

# A substantial spike in sources of research funding outside the social sector would result in more avenues for productive student employment, more incentives for creative faculty, a tenure system for professors based on research productivity – more reasons to pursue higher education.

# Education would be priced much higher; tuition and fees would be driven not by utopian fundamentals such as margins of profit or social need but by the inexorable demands of the market.  Banks and other lenders would enter a golden age. Credit rating of individuals would blossom as an industry in itself.

# Resistance to egalitarian programs such as reservation in college seats would get stronger, more so in reservation in faculty positions:  Disadvantaged backward/rural students would find motivation to be as competitive as ever.

# Universities from America and Europe, eager to expand their reach and coffers, would be able to offer high quality programs on their own terms: How about access to the portals of Columbia, MIT or Cambridge while sitting in your red-oxide verandah in Vontikoppal? There’d be a celebration of the scientific method, probably with greater emphasis on process than on concepts.

# Short-term disadvantages to regional aspirations such as Indian systems of medicine and therapy, the Kannada chaluvali, Indology and Eastern philosophies would be corrected over time by the higher-impact creative activities and research.

# The academic year’s pace would hasten; university schedules would move into more flexible, credit-driven semesters or quarters.

Churumuri readers might want to discuss the value additions/deletions from the above implications.

Also read: Yella not OK, guru. Nanna makkalu is not learning

Don’t gift them fish. Teach them how to fish

Can Azim Premji do what the government can’t/won’t?

What can Mysore University do with a windfall

The world’s ascendant education superpower?