Jago (revisited)

In response to the post on Jago Party, Mr Denson Joseph, one of the founder members of the party, took the trouble to post a comment. This is a response to that comment.

I maintain that it is a always a good sign that people are seriously making an attempt at forming political parties. The marketplace, so to speak, has to expand. With some luck, the good ones will take root and flourish. But the creation of a good party is not just a matter of luck. It has to be the result of some deep thinking. Impassioned calls to “WORK TOGETHER & TAKE ACTION BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE” by “the literate noble thinkers, bloggers & critics” is a bit premature if the hard thinking has not been done.

I am risk averse and believe that it is better to not do anything than to get all fired up with missionary zeal and rush headlong into doing the wrong thing. To an unfortunate degree, many of our misfortunes are the result of well-meaning people who thought that they were doing the right thing when in fact (and here comes my favorite quote) they were like the monkey who tried to save a fish from drowning by putting it up on a tree. I wish more people would understand the wisdom in the Zen Buddhist admonition: “Don’t just do something, sit there.”

I would like to ask any reformer these questions. Can you convince me that you understand what precisely is wrong with the system and why? Why is what you are proposing to do any different from all the others that have meddled before you and messed up?

One should be able to defend oneself against honest critics. Indeed, one should welcome criticism because that is the way to improve one’s chances of success. It is like product testing which reveals what bits need to be designed better. If the response to criticism is defensive posturing, it is a sign of trouble.

My criticism of the Jago party is that they do not fully appreciate the importance of economic thinking. Setting prices, as I had pointed out earlier, is completely futile. Mr Joseph’s explanation of why Rs 2 is the correct price for electricity is not persuasive. In fact, just that explanation reveals that he did not quite understand what my objection is and why that objection matters.

His claim that Jago party’s knowledge of economics compares favorably to Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav’s could be true. But that still does not mean that the Jago party knows any economics at all. I would conjecture that Mr Yadav’s knowledge of anything at all is a very low bar and any educated high school child can step over it with ease.

My feeling is that Jago party does need to do some serious thinking. In my opinion, any party that holds Arundhati Roy in high regard needs to seriously examine its beliefs and core principles. Perhaps she is a good fiction writer but her grasp of reality is tenuous at best. Any party that even mentions her favorably is more likely to hinder India’s development than to help in any way.

One of the greatest sins that well-meaning but poorly informed reformers commit is that of arrogance. Yes, they want to help the poor. And how they propose to do so? By dictating to them. “Here, you must go to the schools we have built for you, and you must learn what we have decided you should and for how long.” That sort of arrogant attitude characterized Nehruvian socialism and has created most of our present problems.

Mr Joseph writes:

Reserving seats in education – In our manifesto what we say is that: All poor Indians: (i) will get free/subsidized modern day education (ii) Mandatory education upto the 10th Std.

Why “free/subsidized modern day education” (whatever that means) instead of, say, “all poor Indians will get free/subsidized food and healthcare”? What are the trade-offs involved in forcing “the poor” to be educated up to the 10th standard as opposed to making the opportunity available for everyone to become as educated as they wish? To me that seems to be a better option. It is both economically efficient and morally defensible because it gives people a choice to do what they feel is in their interests.

This is an important point that I feel lies at the core of our previous public policy failures: the failure to realize that socialistic paternalism is not a good thing. It is alright to call someone “Chacha” affectionately but the moment that uncle of yours decides what you should do, it is time to tell the Chacha to back off and keeps his hands out of your pockets.

Mr Joseph concludes his comment with

I think our greatest challenge, now is to convince people like Sh. Parijat Garg that it is high time we stop criticizing people who want to do something instead the need of the hour is to pool in our talents together & work in unison under this open platform which we have readied called – “JAGO”.

I respectfully disagree. Critics serve a valuable function. I think that we should call bullshit when appropriate. We should never stop critically evaluating all proposals regardless of who it is and how much “sacrifice” the proposer has made. “You must swallow this because you can hardly imagine how much trouble I went to in making this for you” is barely tolerable when it comes from one’s mother but is not palatable from those whom one does not yet have much reason to trust.

Yes, we have to do something and it is going to be hard. But let us not fool ourselves that figuring out what to do is going to be any easier than the doing. Therein lies the real challenge.

7 thoughts on “Jago (revisited)

  1. Abhishek Monday February 25, 2008 / 7:51 pm

    They seem to be misguided souls…Very typical of the “galli mohalla” types “do gooders” who are found aplenty. India is a free land and a democracy. They too have a right to co-exist; it would be interesting to see as to how their efforts bear fruits minus any concrete game plan.

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  2. Rahul Kumar Wednesday February 27, 2008 / 12:48 pm

    I think JAGO website mentions “Aruna Roy ” , not ” Arundhati Roy “

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  3. Rahul Kumar Thursday February 28, 2008 / 7:26 pm

    Why “free/subsidized modern day education” (whatever that means) instead of, say, “all poor Indians will get free/subsidized food and healthcare”? What are the trade-offs involved in forcing “the poor” to be educated up to the 10th standard as opposed to making the opportunity available for everyone to become as educated as they wish? To me that seems to be a better option. It is both economically efficient and morally defensible because it gives people a choice to do what they feel is in their interests.
    ———-
    Many poor produce more children to earn by employing them . Similarly they do with cows & buffalows . I know few lambadas in Andhra , produce children just to sell . Why you are opposed to mandatory education ?

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  4. Atanu Dey Friday February 29, 2008 / 8:38 pm

    My opposition is to “mandatory” — education or whatever. Because mandatory implies that someone else decides in your stead. As long as you are paying my bills, I am alright with your mandating what I should do. If you are going to tell me what I should do with my money, I suggest a long hike.

    With that as the principle, let’s see how far mandating education goes.

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  5. Ramsri Friday February 29, 2008 / 9:10 pm

    Don’t know about the rest of you – but looking at the Jago website and reading what little has been written about them certainly gives me an eerie sense of deja vu. Not sure how many of you had a chance to view from close quarters the recent political gimmick that was Lok Paritran – if you did, you probably know where I’m coming from. The elaborate circus they had arranged on the sidelines of the Tamil Nadu assembly elections in 2006 met with surprisingly positive response from among the educated urban middle-class (the IIT tag pulling its weight here). These guys arrived on the scene with a bang, making a lot of noise about how they wanted to bring about “systemic changes” and “cleanse” the existing political system of the “rot that had set in”. Of course, they were never very articulate about what exactly they thought was “wrong” with the system and how one could go about “cleansing” it – precisely the point Atanu makes in his original write-up – “Can you convince me that you understand what precisely is wrong with the system and why?”. Attending a few of their meetings in Chennai were enough to convince one that these were questions they seemed either unwilling to answer or completely incapable of answering. Strangely, it didn’t seem to matter, because they managed to generate a huge buzz in the run-up to the assembly polls. Plus, the young-IITians-chucking-plush-foreign-jobs-to-take-the-plunge image certainly had its takers. Anyway, they did some elaborate campaigning, generated a lot of positive buzz around them, contested one assembly election in TN, and disappeared with a whimper. In Chennai, where they had the most support (the LP candidate actually polled close to 10,000 votes in the constituency where I voted), we haven’t heard from them since.

    Now, it would be extremely premature to suggest that Jago is headed down the same road as LP. But it is important to note that LP’s political posturing not only made them lose their own credibility, but has also, at some level, queered the pitch for everyone else. Any party that now emerges with the young-Indians-uniting-to-give-the-country-hope message is skating on very thin ice. Perhaps Mr. Joseph and co. should recognize that, and position themselves accordingly.

    That said, I have a fundamental problem with this kind of a “top-down” approach where a party announces its arrival in a grand manner – website, mission statement etc. firmly in place – but has very little to show in terms of track record. I looked all over the Jago website for some indication of what these guys had been upto before they decided to take the plunge politically, and found absolutely nothing. One would think that the key to going political in a country like ours would have to lie in starting from the bottom – identifying target communities and focus areas, working with those communities over a period of time, participating actively in issues of public interest, mobilizing area-wide, state-wide groups of party workers on the ground, so on and so forth – systematically working your way through the rungs to finally put yourself up on a pedestal from where you can ask people to come out and vote for you on the strength of your track record. Parties like LP (and now Jago) seem to have turned this formula on its head. I really don’t see how anyone (unless you’re a filmstar which gives you automatic license to contest elections and win) can do that and expect to get away with it.

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  6. Rahul Kumar Sunday March 2, 2008 / 2:33 pm

    “Can you convince me that you understand what precisely is wrong with the system and why?”.
    ————
    (1) Corrupt leaders . No transparency in governance .

    (2) No internal democracy in parties . Most of the parties are one man/ family show .

    (3) Illiterate voters . Corrupt politicians exploiting this scenario by raising emotional issues .

    (4) Outdated socialism practiced by Congress up to 1991 .
    ——————————–
    I looked all over the Jago website for some indication of what these guys had been upto before they decided to take the plunge politically, and found absolutely nothing. One would think that the key to going political in a country like ours would have to lie in starting from the bottom – identifying target communities and focus areas, working with those communities over a period of time, participating actively in issues of public interest, mobilizing area-wide, state-wide groups of party workers on the ground, so on and so forth – systematically working your way through the rungs to finally put yourself up on a pedestal from where you can ask.
    ————
    It is very clearly mentioned that they are not from political background . I do not think it is necessary that a party should be launched at a Mohalla level. Do you know , how Kanshiram started BSP ? What work he did ? If people like JAGO policies , they will support it . That’s all. Failed LP does not mean that every one else will fail too . I feel those were very young people / in-experienced people . Where as most of the JAGO members are 35 plus , thus more matured .

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  7. Shivani Saturday March 8, 2008 / 10:41 pm

    I absolutely agree with the comments that one needs to have the facts in place before declaration of great planned actions. In fact, to have the right answers why things didn’t work as planned in the existing system and checks the party will keep to make sure that they do work…

    It’s not just behavior of one party – its something that is very natural (like greed…) to individuals and becomes collective behavior in the end.

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