Friday, December 24, 2010


Each time a year or a decade draws to a close, hacks and pundits shamelessly use words like tumultuous, turbulent, momentous and what not. Events that would not even find a footnote in history become momentous occasions that would transform everything. For a relatively new democratic nation state like India, every decade since the 1950s has been a defining one. The 1950s saw Nehru disarmingly wrap India Inc. around his web of socialist ideals while Dr. Ambedkar fought a heroic battle against revisionists to reform the Hindu Civil Code. The 1960s saw the dismal humiliation of India by China, the last famine that India witnessed and the beginning of the destruction of the Congress monopoly. The 1970s saw India Inc. being smothered by crony socialism even as Indira Gandhi and Jaiprakash Narayan fought an epic battle that nobody won. The 1980s saw India Inc. get just a whiff of freedom from stifling controls and Indian cricket finally broke free of its British Imperial legacy even as the soul of the nation fought what then seemed like a losing war against secessionism and insurgency. The 1990s saw economic opportunities multiply even as multiple and multiplying sectarian and secessionist violence of the most brutal kind struck blow aft er blow against the very Idea of India.

How would you sum up and characterise the post Y2K decade? (Yes, do you now recall how hacks and pundits were hell bent on categorising Y2K as something more apocalyptic than the most terrible visions of Nostradamus? And yes, how many of you do actually remember the Y2K frenzy?)

Being a hack and also having no shame in proclaiming myself as a self proclaimed pundit (as most fellow Indians do!), I would say this decade going by saw three things: the rise and rise of brazen crony capitalism (replacing the crony socialism) of the 1970s and 1980s and the simultaneous rise and rise of a wave against pathetic governance masquerading as populism; ethnic assertiveness or plain simple goondaism. Both are waging an epic battle; the first to enable some elements of India Inc. to take India back to some kind of paternalistic and pseudo-democratic corporate feudalism and the second to take India back to plain simple feudalism. Or not. The battles are being waged in earnest and oft en viciously; but I doubt if even Bejan Daruwala, hustling his annual dose of narcissism for Rs.295 a shot, can actually say who will win the war.

Back in 2001, India Inc. and middle class India were shaken by the Ketan Parekh scam; almost 10 years aft er SEBI was formed to prevent such scams and the venerable UTI almost collapsed because it invested your and my money in exorbitantly overpriced equities prompted by God knows who. Of course, please don’t forget the Tehelka scam the same year. The subsequent years saw scam aft er scam – small and big; the first real telecom scam and the petroleum pump scam to name just two. Aft er 2004, when the aam aadmi UPA government under the unquestionably honest Dr. Manmohan Singh came to power, India witnessed a bizarre situation, where genuine pro poor schemes and plans marched in tandem with gargantuan scams. One of the biggest scams, though hardly talked about now, is the manner in which the government was enriching corporate India at the expense of poor farmers through that fancy thing called Special Economic Zone (SEZ). And nothing seems to have changed even as the decade comes to a close.

Just look at the intriguing change in pattern. By the early 1990s, criminals had figured out the true worth of the institutions of Indian democracy. So instead of helping politicians with muscle power, they (or their chosen nominees) decided to become politicians. The Legislature, the Executive, the Judiciary and the Fourth Estate became mere pawns as many of them launched successful political careers. In this decade, may businessmen have decided that apart from (not instead of) financing politicians, why not become politicians or make politicians of nominees? Just look at the number of high profile and astoundingly rich barons of India Inc. (and their nominees) who have done so this decade and you will figure out what I am talking. India Inc. always knew how to manipulate the Indian judiciary, just as the criminals figured out by the 1970s and 1980s. So many criminals are now being replaced in Indian politics by businessmen and their nominees. We in India cheer the electoral losses of the criminals; do we realise how insidious and dangerous the rise of the businessman nominated politicians are?

As things stand today, there doesn’t appear much hope for Indian democracy. But I am optimistic. For the simple reason that many Indians are now increasingly winning the smaller-oft en-unknown-battles in this big war. Our sister publication The Sunday Indian, in its special year end issue, has one story that highlights how a Dalit called Bant Singh in Punjab fought and is winning his battle against the system despite his daughter being gang raped and him losing his limbs. Who could have imagined in the 1990s that someone like Manu Sharma would actually spend quality time behind bars for the murder of Jessica Lal? Who could have imagined in the 1990s that school children in Uttar Pradesh could actually file RTI applications and force the administration to ‘finally do something’? Who could have imagined that an honest sitting judge of a High Court would write blogs against his own Chief Justice, exposing the rot in the judicial system? I can add so many more ‘who could haves’ but am sure you are familiar with them.

My Editor in Chief is absolutely clear that India actually needs to change from a ‘demonocracy’ to a genuine democracy. The war looks unevenly poised. But I am optimistic that through the course of history, the meek has started getting at least something; though I don’t see her inheriting the earth.

For years and years, Business & Economy has been proud to present analytical and oft en contrarian stories to readers that other publications prefer to ignore. In this issue too, enjoy again some of the very best we offered you in 2010!