Into the Netas’ Pocket
Talking Their Hearts Out
Joseph K in your Neighborhood
In Search of Identity
Think It Through
Into the Netas’ Pockets
There’ a verse in Kalidasa’s Raghuvamsam, describing briefly what the welfare state achieved by the kings of the Raghu dynasty (to which belonged Sri Rama) did: (I.18):
prajanam eva bhutyartham
sa tabhyo balim agrahit;
Adatte hi rasam vavih
“It was only for the prosperity and welfare of the people that he (the king) took taxes from them, just as the sun draws moisture (from the oceans) to give it back in thousand-fold measure (as beneficial rain).”
Taxes, similarly, are collected and levies imposed on all and spent where needed the most. Ideally, this is the raison d’être of the annual budgetary exercise on February 28. It is the day the Finance Minister presents the Government’s annual budget, which outlines the ruling party’s fiscal planning, economic priorities and – let me add – political game plan for the year ahead.
I’m not an economist – and thank God for it! There is one less around to muddy the stream of clear thinking. Most, if not all, of what has gone awry with our economy is because of the multiplicity of diagnoses and prescriptions offered by our economists – both sarkari and non-sarkari. Even a layman like me knows that the three afflictions of our economy are: a ballooning fiscal deficit, a galloping current account deficit and, above all, xx spiraling inflation. The last one hurts the most and the worst sufferer is the aam admi (like you and me) who doesn’t know what the price of bread and butter will be tomorrow, with cheese having become out of reach for years.
I switched on the idiot box to hear the Hon’ble FM tell us “The poor are burdened with increasing daily problems (what a great realization!), the women face insecurity and indignities (who bothers about it?) and the youth are frustrated (who doesn’t know that?)… I acknowledge the Indian economy is challenged, but I’m confident we’ll get out of the trough and on to a high growth path.” Very rhetorical indeed. We are all (except the netas) still in the trough.
In terms of taxation the only noteworthy initiative was the imposition of a 10 per cent surcharge on individuals and corporations with taxable incomes exceeding Rs.1 crore. Turn to the preamble of the Constitution to refresh your memory that ours is – thanks to Indira Gandhi – a socialist republic. But then my friends seasoned in the intricacies of budget and its proverbial small print, explained to me that given the large number of concessions and exemptions available, the number of tax-paying entities falling in this range is ridiculously small. The Minister himself provided a figure of a paltry 42,800 individuals who qualify. They were, thus far, being taxed at 30.90 per cent on their taxable incomes in excess of Rs.10,00,000. Now, they would pay the new marginal rate of just 33.99 per cent only on that part of their income that exceeds more than 10 times this sum. What a great sacrifice? The effect on revenues cannot be substantial.
Palaniappan Chidambaram is, all said, a shrewd politician with a strong survival instinct. He knows the general elections are round the corner. The three segments he identified to woo in the budget proposals are: women youth and of course the poor for whom Soniaji’s heart bleeds. These indeed are the demographic segments of Indian society that have spearheaded the nation’s anti-corruption movement in recent years and worked to raise the nation’s consciousness on issues of national concern.
To secure the votes of India’s poor who have traditionally been fooled to vote for the ruling Congress party, the Finance Minister announced a plan to expand the Direct Benefit Transfer Scheme. People now have started realizing where do the funds really get transferred to: into the copious pockets of our netas.
Chidambaram also vowed to begin from April 1 – an auspicious day – working to lower India’s fiscal deficit to 4.6 percent of the nation’s GDP, from 5.2 percent in the current financial year. This we know is a pledge all Finance Ministers take only to break. Circumstantial compulsions are always the reason.
Talking Their Hearts Out
I’m fascinated by the area of human interactions covered by what is traditionally called communication. As a management consultant of some sort, I made a thorough study of the why and how of this vast area. The ultimate purpose, purportedly, is ‘to reach out to others’. It is too profound a thesis to put across simply. ‘Meaning what you say’ is another complex area.
There is a profound Bengali phrase – mukher katha: literally it means mouth talk. Actually, it means saying something just for the sake of saying without any intention whatever to implement what you say or promise. The nearest English equivalent is whisky talk i.e., the bravado spouted under the influence of liquor which you all forget about when the spell wears off.
Mukher katha of all varieties, including quarter-to-half serious, has in our times becomes an international contagion – very wide-spread and on the increase by the day. And what has hugely contributed to its spread are the advances in the realm of telephony. No wonder some seventy crore Indians may have or not two square meals a day but they do own a mobile telephone and spend hours every day talking to each other. What do they talk about? I’ve no idea. Nor, I believe have they.
Why do people prefer to be busy doing something, anything? Some researchers attribute this to the evolutionary process itself. Humans have to be busy. If they remain idle, they are miserable. So they must be doing something. But the question is what? Also relevant is the question whether what you and I do to keep ourselves busy is worthwhile. Busyness can be either constructive or destructive. Let’s take our leaders. We elect them to be busy working for the welfare of society. They choose to busy themselves looting the treasury.
There can be another – call it third kind of busyness: futile busyness, namely, busyness serving no purpose other than to prevent idleness. Such activity is more realistic than constructive busyness and less evil than destructive busyness. And most of it is done on mobile phones.
Joseph K in your Neighborhood
Remember the intriguing case of Josef K. He was the chief financial officer of a bank. On his thirtieth birthday, the poor fellow is unexpectedly arrested by two unidentified agents from an unspecified agency for an unspecified crime. The agents' boss later arrives and holds a mini tribunal in the room of K.'s neighbor. K. is not taken away, but left "free" to await instructions from the Committee of Affairs.
This is the story of Franz Kafka’s novel, The Trial, published a decade or so after it was written. It tells the story of a man arrested and prosecuted by a remote, inaccessible authority, with the nature of his crime revealed to neither him nor the reader.
This actually happened later in Germany under Hitler. And today it is happening in the land of the pure in our neighborhood. In Pakistan anyone can be summarily prosecuted under blasphemy laws. Anyone can go to the court and charge his neighbor of having uttered a blasphemy against the Holy Prophet PBUH. The accuser need not repeat the words allegedly uttered because that itself will be blasphemy.
Sherry Rahman, Pakistan’s ambassador to the USA, is under police investigation. Her alleged crime? She had the temerity to ask for revision of the blasphemy law.
In Search of Identity
When the present voter identity cards were issued I stood in a two- kilometer serpentine queue to take my chance to get myself photographed. That was, as I recall, the month of April. Standing in the open compound of a local school in blazing sun was by no means a memorable experience. Before I collapsed I recall a Good Samaritan volunteered to stand in line for me.
I joined after five hours. Had myself photographed followed by my wife. When the cards were ready in due course – I hope you know what that means – I was shocked to see my photo on my wife’s card, and her photo, on mine. Stood in another queue to get the mistake rectified.
Thereafter, I became a registered voter of the Republic of India with a right to vote without ever seeing the face to the person who was representing me in the municipal corporation, the State legislature and Lok Sabha. The candidates don’t show up at all in areas that aren’t likely to vote for them.
For want of anything else worthwhile to do, the Election Commission has come out with the idea to improve the quality of the electors photo-identity card. As if there weren’t enough abbreviations to confuse the poor aam admi a new one has been added to be rattled off in day-to-day conversation. It’s EPIC. These we are assured tamper-proof and will be used in forthcoming general election whenever it is held to suit the convenience of the ruling party. It would look like a PAN card. Isn’t it also time to issue new superior quality PAN cards?
Think It Through
It takes almost a couple of years to have a working draft of a book you might have spent years in thinking through and researching. I know all this from personal experience. All the while you mull the proposed name. Many a title occurs. Hitting the bull’s eye in one shot is rare indeed.
The exercise is almost like expecting parents planning their child’s name. The latter exercise is more forbidding because it involves preparation of two lists –one if the baby is a girl and the second if, the child to arrive is a boy. It is not dissimilar in case of a book. Many an idea occurs. What appeals to you, what excites readers’ interest, what your publisher approves, have to be reconciled.
There is, since 1978, a prize in England called Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title. Here’s a sample of some of the winning entries of previous years:
What to Say When You Talk to Yourself – Shad Helmstetter
Truncheons: Their Romance and Reality – Erland Fenn
I’m almost through a book on the present shape of our polity. Tentatively, I’ve thought of naming it Nehru’s Sheesh asana and its Impact on Indian Polity. Can you, dear readers, suggest a more odd name which is at once provocative and suggestive?