January 26th, 2015 is the 66th “Republic Day” of India: the Constitution of India came into force on this day in 1950 as the supreme law of the land, replacing the Government of India Act of 1935. I doubt that very many Indians actually know what the Republic Day has to do with the constitution. If you doubt that, ask a few Indians what’s celebrated.
To most, it is just a holiday with parades, patriotic songs and the same old politicians pontificating on television. Constitution? Well, we don’t worry about that. But we need to because the constitution matters. In a very strict sense, it is the most important institution that determines the fortunes of the state. It does so by constraining what laws politicians can enact, and therefore constrains public policies. Public policies matter in determining strongly national prosperity. A bad constitution guarantees a dysfunctional state. It’s time for people to read the constitution, understand it, and ponder whether it has lived up to its frequently advertised greatness.
India will teach us the tolerance and gentleness of mature mind, understanding spirit and a unifying, pacifying love for all human beings.
— Will Durant
(1885-1981) American writer, historian, philosopher.
The first bit of news I got today through twitter was that Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister of the Islamic State of Pakistan had declared a day of national mourning and ordered the Pakistani flag to be flown at half mast because the king of Saudi Arabia died. Typical, I said to myself. A beggar state like Pakistan has to acknowledge the debt it owes to its benefactor state. Pakistan gets life-support from the Saudis. And support for its death-dealing terrorism that it routinely directs at India. It has to kowtow, beg, grovel, bow and scrape before its masters. And as one would expect, now it has to ostentatiously beat its breast and loudly weep like a penniless widow. Self-respect is a luxury that beggars cannot afford. Too many Pakistanis are wannabe Arabs. I felt sorry for Pakistan and I admit that I gloated a little bit. It would never happen in India, I told myself.
The most dangerous man, to any government, is the man who is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost invariably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable, and so, if he is romantic, he tries to change it. And if he is not romantic personally, he is apt to spread discontent among those who are. ― HL Mencken
And usually these troublemakers are the ones who need to be muzzled through suppression of speech and expression.
I was talking today to a friend in Boston who was recently in India for the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (Non-resident Indian Day) in Gandhinagar. He reported that it was the worst managed PBD he’d seen in his 15 years of attending the event. Among his other observations, he noted that some of the states are trying their best to attract investment from within and outside India. But, he said, he was distressed to see how poorly his ancestral state of West Bengal was doing. Nothing at all is happening there and it appears to be in terminal decline. I said that that’s too bad but I could have told you that decades ago. Have you been following the news about Venezuela, I asked. No, he replied. I pointed him to a Jan 13th Forbes article: The Impending Collapse Of Venezuela.
The article title in Businessweek is “Why People Kill People Over Satire.” But the URL reads “Why the terrorists killed the satirists of Charlie Hebdo in Paris.” Curious, isn’t it? The article title generalizes too much, watering down the particular. Sure, Islamic terrorists are terrorists, and certainly terrorists are people. So one can substitute use the general “people” instead of the particular “Islamic terrorists.” The title of the article is overly general, the URL is somewhere along the middle, and the particularized question that needs answering is “Why do only Islamic terrorists kill people over satire these days?”
The phrase “Islamic terrorism” is actually one word too long since almost all modern-day terrorism is Islamic and the adjective is entirely superfluous. Why Islam specializes in this form of warfare is not hard to understand — because violence and aggression is ultimately the only weapon left to those who don’t have any other means of engaging with others. This engagement has become so tiresomely commonplace that we have come to accept it as a normal feature of modern life. It is hard to imagine but there was a time when you didn’t have to surrender your bottle of water or take off your shoes before boarding a flight. Now you have to surrender not just liquids but also your dignity under the intrusion of full-body scanners as we go about such mundane and innocuous activities as taking a flight.
I have always been suspicious of what has become almost conventional wisdom that there is something called the “wisdom of the crowd.” It is generally interpreted to mean that the collective somehow knows what is not knowable by any individual. That notion is one of the motivating factors that recommends democracy to some. I disagree: I think the crowd collectively does not “know” since the act of knowing applies to individuals and not to abstract collectives. (Actually, it is superfluous to write “abstract collectives” since there are no other kinds of collectives; all collectives are abstractions.) Each individual knows something but those particularized “knowings” cannot be meaningfully aggregated to something that can be called the “knowledge of the crowds” or some such.
It takes a long time and sustained effort to learn a subject, to understand the basics, to appreciate its complexity. At some time in this often arduous journey one usually arrives at the point where one begins to understand the immensity of the subject and how ignorant one is about it. Expertise is accompanied with an acceptance that one is now in full view of one’s ignorance. No one is as acutely aware of his own ignorance as the expert.
So the new game in town is called “NITI Ayog” — National Institution for Transforming India — and the news is that Prof Arvind Panagariya will be appointed as the vice-chairman of the institution, as the Hindustan Times reports. That “Niti” bit may sound familiar to some who have been following this blog. If you recall, my book of 2011 is titled “Transforming India” and in 2012, my colleague and I decided that “New Initiatives for Transforming India” or NITI would be a good word to use for all our initiatives related to . . . wait for it . . . transforming India. Why? Because in Sanskrit (and so in Hindi and Bengali), Niti (or नीति in Devanagri) means variously “morality, policy, ethics, the right path” etc. Our goal was to figure out how to bring about — and help in — the transformation of India. We wanted India’s transformation and continue to do so. “NITI Central” was one of those initiatives.
So I am quite tickled to note that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has relabeled the old Planning Commission as the “National Institution for Transforming India”. It is the old planning commission with a new name. Of course, you all know how I feel about central planning and how wonderful it is for human welfare. Anyway, here’s wishing NITI Ayog the best and hoping that it lives up to its meaning.
Correction: I had mistakenly believed that NITI Ayog was “New Institution for Transforming India” but I was corrected (hat tip Anup) that it was actually “National Institution for Transforming India.” I regret the error (as they say in the MSM.)
A few days ago, the following tweet was retweeted approvingly by many Indians, no doubt out of a sense pride and patriotism. “Look, look,” they seemed to say, “Look, how great India was. In 1870, India’s GDP was higher than UK, US, Russia, Germany, France and Italy. In fact, India’s GDP was over four times that of Italy.”