Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Feeding India's Poor

A few days ago, the newspapers carried statements of SEBI and private banks’ head honchos declaim against RBI rate cut in absence of other government hand outs.  What, one wonders, was the purpose of private banks if they can operate only with government handouts?  What happens to their much lauded ‘private’ status then?
Banks, entrepreneurs, economic intellectuals et all rail against the food bill that promises food in the belly of India’s poor.  Instead of those lakhs, they argue in favor of diverting that money to industrialists’ coffers, purportedly to speed up development via industrial growth, claiming that will raise India up faster.

The Question is: against a handout of x lakh crores, what guarantee is there of creation of at least y thousand jobs?  In recent times, the import of state of art technology means less than c hundred jobs, generally limited to the upper middle and upper classes?
What are these chappies afraid of?  Actually?
Of those lakhs of really poor, who cannot afford one square meal a day,  slum dwellers in the smaller towns, rural and tribal areas, the sc and st deprived classes, who would for the first time, get access to food to fill their bellies …. 
That, after a full belly, they may want more -- amenities, education, health, jobs  and some of those goodies, shampoos, bournvita, chocolates, maggi,  drinks, eats and homes that these gentlemen proclaim to have done wonders in.
Perhaps they know that they will not be able to move fast enough to meet the stepped up demand and then the MNCs will step in while they watch the outcome of their playing ducks and drakes with national investments.
Just as we have watched Sahara and other chit funds fool people of savings;  a Mallya lead the high life while his kingfisher employees make do without salaries, the argument being that kingfish airlines has nothing  in common with money spinning breweries, except the common owner?   Or all those netas with multiple lakh crores?   Has anyone wondered how despite a recession and deflated industrial growth, the personal incomes of big wigs show  healthy hikes?

The arguments for industrial growth are well measured:
One industrialist argues     “where do you decide to what level growth should fall?  And how do you bring it up?  We’ve brought down growth but to what level have we succeeded in controlling inflation?”
The SEBI chairman wanted post office rates and statutory liquid ratios to come down first.  CEO,HDFC wanted liquidity to improve with government spending and FII inflows before his bank could do anything.   Citibank CEO wanted more government, public and private sector spending to happen with improved liquidity first. And CEO, ICICI bank said that deposit rates would not come down unless the deposit growth rates and seasonal demand improves.

On literacy vs skill development, it is argued that instead of wailing over the ‘missing women’ lost in female foeticide, better growth will improve lives of those living children.  Why not, but only if factories will sprout that will offer fruitful employment to the boys allowed to be born and pampered into rapisthood.
In short: Faster industrial growth vs. food in the belly of the starved or semi starved ----  but only if the government will bankroll that industrial growth!!

Another way out may be if all these industrialists with begging bowls were to check their accounts to see how much they owe the government under what heads and how many petitions and appeals they have filed to stave off that payment. Instead of a vast legal department to deal with those, let them just cough up the balance, to give the government more than enough to either feed those poor or help the new industrial growth along, perhaps both.

Even so, where are all those jobs going to come from? Everyone worth his salt is united in declaring that the government has to get out of the public sector as soon as possible.  So one huge employment segment is firmly out.
The private sector creates limited jobs, a couple thousand per hundred crores investment, may be.
That leaves us with faujis, policewallas, babus and netas.
Our army is desperately short of men; their pay is abysmal.  But the babus fight any pay hike tooth and nail. Ditto the policewallas for whom the absence of decent pay hike, plus babu-neta demands means more rampant corruption.  So unless we really pay our uniformed forces right, another huge segment of employment is closed.
And of course, there is no rein on the recruitment and corruption of the babus and the netas.

Reports from China indicate that their single child policy has now resulted in spoilt brats called Little Emperors, whose self absorption has led to a damaging decline of the work ethic and discipline that fuelled the country’s dramatic rise.
The effects of this phenomena are slated to be felt as soon as 2020 when India’s average age will be 29 against China’s 37, leaving that many less working years left for the  working population that in China, struggles with their little emperors, themselves and two sets of retired parents each from the pre-retirement planning days.
Statistics indicate that by 2040 the Indian population will be more than China’s and younger too; that translates into greater productivity – if there are jobs to be productive in.  Stats do tell lies, but there is always a grain of truth somewhere. Question is how to we capitalize on this hare and tortoise race with China …. feed, house, clothe, education and train young people to contribute to positive change, not merely  terror and rape statistics.

The issue then is of creating jobs.  If these biggies want to create jobs, they need gargantuan government handouts which could empty the banks, plus speedy land reforms and acquisitions which will barely give jobs to those dispossessed, plus speedy clearances and infrastructure support --- not that their record for giving results despite such support is anything to talk about.
Yet the question is:  et c’est possible? Politically?  Even with an election looming?  Will the opposition allow that?
What then happens to those teeming hungry millions and their daily bread, while our BMWallahs  laugh all the way to those banks?

Monday, May 13, 2013

Back to the Roots

Going back to my roots seems to have become a thing of now.
First it was my book BEYOND DIAMOND RINGS which revisited my matriarchal Sindhi roots and the evolution of Sindhi women since the Partition, although I was born post partition.
Suddenly last week, I found myself wearing what would a today version of the traditional dress of my grandmothers “paro chadar”.  Their paro was a full skirt, could be poplin, bosky, silk, satin, velvet , whatever; topped with a kurti, the length of which was obviously dictated by fashion.
The whole would be topped by a chadar, sindhi adaption of the odhni or the muslim ‘chador’ that all enveloping cover all. Once again, that could be plain white fabric, poplin or mull, net or silk, depending on the ocasison, the time and circumstances etc.  jewelry was obviously a must.
My adaption was a cotton printed skirt made from the salwar fabric of a salwar kameez set.  And my kurti was a T shirt to match. Odhni dispensed with in this sticky heat…….  But still back to the roots, right!

Thursday, May 09, 2013

BJP: Mughal clones?

Does it sound like a totally preposterous comparison: of the BJP to the Mughals?   But there it is, the BJP has just done what the Mughals did centuries ago.
Once past their prime, the Mughals oversaw the demise of Hindustan, first losing the south and letting administration slide.
In our times, the BJP rose swiftly to take Delhi and spread its wings across the country. Slowly those wings lost wind; its southern bastion, Karnataka took the sting out of the BJP’s neta-speak, rather raving and ranting about corruption and scams. Now Karnataka has firmly rejected the BJP, actually opting for the ‘scam prone’ Congress instead.  
One wonders: was it a mere coincidence that all the scams crept out of the woodwork while BJP was facing voter rejection?   Were the BJP years all that scam free or it is mere Congressi forebearance that has kept those worms inside the wood work still?
The BJP mughals have not only lost the south first in their retreat from power.  They have actually set something of a record in non governance.  The last lok sabha has been found to be the least productive in history, just like the reigns of the later mughals, almost entirely thanks to the BJP’s tactical determination not to let it function. The party stalwarts are so scared of debate that they chose to disrupt proceedings all the time, so that nothing can be discussed, unless it is raising the pay and perks of MPs.
FDI, land reform, police reform, corruption, food for all, whatever – for the BJP it made no difference whether business suffered, the poor or something they had initiated themselves.  The only concern apparently is the paralysis of administration with spice in the media and on twitter – as if that is all there is to India, Bharat, Hindustan, you pick the name, for what is there in a name? India or a rose remains a rose by any name.

Sunday, May 05, 2013


When the government announced a scheme aimed at putting cash into BPL hands for two square meals a day, a cacophony of learned corporate intellectuals pontificated over the evil of such hand outs to the poor.
Better, it was argued, to give that money to entrepreneurs and industrialists to set up units to provide jobs, instead of food protection.
Many wondered whether that might not be a more effective way of taking the country forward.  
But then how many businessmen actually use their own money to start business? And are the numbers of jobs created worth the number of crores from public money in the banks?  
Also does industry really run on its own?
The answer is a big NO, as evident from the enunciations of banking heavyweights from the private sector, the head honchos of the private banks who consider themselves a cut above nationalized banks and of SEBI, the bastion of those with investable surpluses.
On May 3rd, 2013, the Reserve Bank of India announced a cut in the repo rate, no doubt hoping to spark of a revival in the flagging economy.
But from SEBI and the private banks, there was a loud  NIX.
The SEBI chairman wanted post office rates and statutory liquid ratios to come down first.
The CEO,HDFC wanted liquidity to improve with government spending and FII inflows before his bank could do anything.
The Citibank CEO wanted more government, public and private sector spending to happen with improved liquidity first.
And the CEO, ICICI bank said that deposit rates would not come down unless the deposit growth rates and seasonal demand improves.

What does all this mean?   That banks and industrialists need constant  bottle feeds of government assistance, even as they begrudge the poorest of the poor some food, while they indulge in their world class luxury brands. 
Perhaps we’ll reach the Top Ten Table only when we learn to carry all with us.