Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Roti, Kapda, Makaan aur Masala...

According to Wikipedia, the state of Tamil Nadu (TN) is the 5th largest contributor to India's GDP and ranks 10th in Human Development Index as of 2006. TN is also the most urbanized state in India. The state has the highest number (10.56%) of business enterprises and stands second in total employment (9.97%) in India, compared to the population share of about 6%.

TN is also famous for its two main "self-respect" espousing, "atheist-rationalist" Dravidian political parties the DMK and the AIADMK. With very little to differentiate one party from the other (both parties are phenomenally corrupt while bringing in appreciable all-round development and investments to the state), the last decade has witnessed the parties showering the electorate of the state with cash (clandestinely, before the elections) and electronic goods (post the elections as fulfillment of election promises).
During a recent, quick and short “US-Navy-Seals-in-Abbotabad” kind of visit to Chennai (the capital city of TN and one of India's four "Metro" cities), I came across this “Garam Masala” (spice powder) packet distributed through the Public Distribution System (PDS). The 10 gram sachet prominently carried the likeness of the 87-year old Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, M.Karunanidhi (popularly known as “Kalaignar” or “scholar of arts”) with the message “Making fair-priced groceries available during the rule of Kalaignar” (in Tamil).

64 years after our Independence, political parties in India still depend on the powerfully emotive slogan of “roti, kapda aur makaan” (food, clothing and shelter) to garner votes. Since 1951, ten Five-Year Plans have been developed, executed and monitored by the Planning Commission. But the basic issues of food, clothing, and shelter continue to be serious problems. Add to these bijli, sadak aur paani (power, roads and water) the issues only seem to be compounding.
In this scenario, a fair-priced, 10 gram packet of Garam Masala could certainly swing a few percentage points of votes in your favor (enough to win another 5-year term as the “democratically” elected ruling party of a state.)
In India, poverty is the politician’s lifeline.
Once poverty is eradicated, the politician loses his relevance. Politicians and political parties therefore need poverty and “bottom-of-the-pyramid” politics to remain in power. Eradication of poverty is a goal with an “eternal” timeline. The politico’s goal is to strike the right balance just enough poverty to tom-tom about, cause angst in the electorate and win the next elections, and marginal poverty eradication so as to not face anti-incumbency.
Thus, while our politicians and political parties follow “the preservation of Self” as the central theme of their political doctrine, our neighboring countries (notably, China) with more forward-looking policies surge ahead to claim their rightful place among the world nations.


Zak said...

Nicely done ...and great work through an "Abbotabad-recon mission". The questions you raise are pretty much at the top-of-the-agenda in most developing countries, and your expert association of the “masala” element is wholly sub-continental. The Masala Packet is a fair representation of India and its political parties - Flashy, short-term benefit, and wholly irrelevant for nutrition...(further! it comes in a sealed it and pretty much FUBAR for life, brother).
Now, in your Chindia comparison...what would you say is more important - Freedom or Development? "Mind-it" the scales are pretty much tipped on both counts...Got this from another blog, but sums up my point for the Development angle:
"A missing dimension in our discussion on national growth and development is a blatant absence of any emphasis on morality and ethical behaviour as indispensable components of building a viable society. There is a great deal of emphasis on the material; on the hardcore economic necessities that make life livable. In this emphasis on hardcore materialism, there is hardly any thought being spared for those who are at the bottom rungs of society: the weak, the poor, the mentally ill and other "lumpen" elements become expendables in this milieu. We have cultivated a Darwinian philosophy of the survival of the fittest which may yet come to haunt us..." SEZ? Scams? Class wars?
As for Freedom, let’s take a Kafkaesque take on it "You have freedom, that's why you are lost".
Personally and frankly, its not either or, but a “blended approach” that seems likely. Sort of "The best path is the middle path". Though I know the muddle and greyness that this holds is again a punch to Ayn Rand's stomach and her protégés swooping around.

Rajeev Balakrishnan said...

Zak, thanks for your comments. I agree that China has some way to go when it comes to its human rights track record impacting all spheres of its social life. I remember reading somewhere that an entire shantytown in Beijing was asked to "vacate" overnight for the bulldozers to come in the next morning. Today, one of the many beautiful Olympic stadia stands where the shantytown once did. In our own country, a middle-of-the-night “stay order” could’ve been obtained from a bleary-eyed-judge-in-his-pajamas at his residence. Do I prefer China or India? Certainly the democratic set-up we have in India. What I do not like though is the inability of our “democratic set-up” to identify and weed out elements out to exploit the make-up of our democratic set-up. The “anticipatory bail” for instance, or the uncanny ability of our netas to get chest pains when arrested. Even persons with exemplary record in politics such as our Defense Minister A.K.Antony are prey to the system. There was an instance when a by-the-book “tender process” to procure high-power guns was cancelled because a certain Member of Parliament sent Antony a letter alleging “kickbacks” in the procurement process. Antony promptly cancelled the “tender” process fearing a scandal. It later came to light that the MP in question was a “lobbyist” for an arms manufacturer that had lost out during the “tender” process. The letter was the MP’s (and the losing company’s) way of sabotaging the chances of the fair-and-square winner. The “tender” had to be called for again and the procurement of guns delayed – adversely impacting the preparedness of the forces the guns were meant to outfit. When I refer to China in a “positive” light, I remember a famous quote I read somewhere a while back regarding the Chinese foreign policy – “China has no friends, only interests.” In India though, it is always and only about family, friends, coterie or allies – rarely the interests of the Nation.