Beware of Monkeys

Alan Watts is one of my heroes. From his talks and writings, one can gain significant insight into the nature of the world. The World as Just So is a series of delightful lectures that I first came across on public radio. In them, he explores Indian thought – Vedantic and Buddhist. Trained as a Zen master, he made esoteric wisdom accessible to millions. A very deep bow in his direction. He used to live in Berkeley CA but passed on into the great beyond before I made Berkeley my home and therefore did not have a chance to meet him.

In one of his lectures, I came across a statement which has profoundly affected my thinking about the world. The context was, if I recall correctly, how to comprehend the world and live in harmony with it. In his inimitable style of talking infused with lighthearted laughter he said: Don’t be like the monkey who said to the fish, “Let me save you from drowning,” and put it up on a tree. When I heard that, I was enlightened. (I subscribe to the Soto school of Zen thought which holds that enlightenment is sudden.) The world, I realized, was full of monkeys. Look closely at any disastrous situation in the world and you will see a monkey’s hand in the background busy pulling fish out of rivers saving them from drowning.

For instance? The global disaster perpetrated by an advanced industrialized country which I shall not name. Examine the picture closely and you will see the hand of a chimp. (OK, I know that chimps are not monkeys; they are apes. But the point remains. And if you don’t believe me about the chimp bit, see some astonishing pictures of the guy and chimps posted on various websites. The resemblance is striking as if they were twins separated at birth.)

One is stunned by the realization that monkeys rule the roost pretty much wherever you have disasters. Even though some will loudly protest this, I claim that India is to a first approximation a disaster zone. By saying this I open myself to accusation of being an “India hater”. Whether I am or not is totally immaterial, irrelevant, and inconsequential. What is material, relevant and consequential is whether India is a disaster zone or not. Later we can argue about that but for now I seek the monkeys behind the millions of mini-disasters that add up to the mega disaster I call my motherland.

Mini-disaster #592: Free electrical power to farmers. Ostensible reason given: To support poor farmers. Consequence: depletion of ground water, water-logging of fields, billions of rupees owed by an already bankrupt State government to the electricity board, regular power cuts in most cities of at least four hours each day.

Surely, it has to be an incomprehending monkey that believes that free power to farmers will improve the lot of farmers. First, poor farmers and peasants have little use for free power. They don’t have the equipment to make use of power, free or otherwise. Relatively rich farmers have equipment and given free power they do what the average person does when you get free anything: use it beyond the socially and economically efficient level. As someone put it to me yesterday, the farmers “turn on the pumps in the field in the morning and go back to the village to spend the day and return in the evening sometime to turn off the pumps.” In the meanwhile, excess water has been withdrawn and today’s excesses will lead to more problems tomorrow.

Free power to farmers has the first-order disastrous effect of depleting scarce ground water reserves. It has second-order effects of creating power scarcity in cities. Cities which need power for commerce and manufacturing have to invest in costly alternative power supply such as diesel generator sets. This drives up the costs and generally makes us poor. On the supply side, the government owes money to the electricity board and in all likelihood cannot pay and so much needed capacity will not be installed leading to further shortage of power. Third-order effect: urban people who need power to produce non-agricultural stuff and do business don’t produce as much and so have reduced incomes. Reduced incomes means that they have less money to spend on agricultural produce. So the farmers receive less for their production. So they are poor. And the story comes full circle: the next election cycle, the monkeys will promise free fertilizers and power and water and we will be further impoverished.

I admit that free power is a move cynically calculated to win elections and it may not be that those who make these policies are as stupid as they appear to be. But they are still monkeys, really.

So what is the quintessential characteristics of this problem of monkeys intervening. It is this: monkeys, well-meaning perhaps, don’t understand the nature of the universe that they meddle in. We are all monkeys, in some sense. We make mistakes and are not always rational in our personal day to day dealings. Being a monkey is necessary but not sufficient to give rise to disasters; you need to have power. If you are a powerful monkey, you have what it takes to create havoc. The more power you are, the more death and destruction you can unleash. The most powerful chimp in the world is the most destructive today.

But then the question arises, how is it that monkeys get to be so powerful. I think I have a tentative answer to that question which I will go into in a bit.

What about Magarpatta City? Well, let me get to it as well in a bit.

Nehru and the Indian Economy (…Why is India Poor? )

The last posting, Why is India Poor?, has drawn sufficient attention that there needs to be a follow-up addressing some of the points raised in the comments.

It is interesting to note that the arguments against my view of Nehru and his failed economic policies are generic. I will repeat them and my counter-arguments here.

My argument. Economic policies matter. If you have sound economic policies, you get commensurate economic performance. India’s economic performance sucks. It performs dismally in any sort of ranking of human development and economic performance tests. Half the illiterates of the world call India their home. A third of all global poverty is in India. All things considered, India has been a colossal failure so far.

Why has India been a failure? Are Indians collectively stupid? Unlikely.

Did GOD decree it? I asked him and he categorically denied it.

Did nations around the world gang up and rape India for the last 60 years? Not that I know of.

I am left with the hypothesis that perhaps India’s economic policies sucked chrome off a bumper of a pickup truck parked at 400 yards.

Who makes economic policies? You? I? No, economic policy is made by the so-called leaders and visionaries of this sainted land. Who were the most powerful leaders of this land since its independence from Britain? Nehru and his descendants. He dictated policy—economic, foreign, domestic, you name it. The most charitable way of putting the matter is to say that Nehru was clueless.

He wasn’t just clueless about this or that. His cluelessness was all encompassing. He was clueless about foreign policy, military strategy, domestic development &#151 you name it and he is the greatest screw-up that India has ever produced.

Then come the rebuttals which often start with the admission that Nehru was clueless but . . .

. . . but during his time, many others–including a few people one cannot dismiss as being clueless thought that Central planning was beneficial for countries like India. These included Nobel winner Gunnar Myrdal (Asian Drama, an Inquiry into the Poverty of Nations) and Mahalanobis.

The argument above says that it wasn’t the man, it was the circumstances. By that logic, everything is justifiable. Every crime can be explained away as the result of compelling circumstances and hence there can be no accountability.

Take, for instance, the WorldCom and Enron cases where executives committed theft on unprecedented and unimaginable scale. One could point to the fact that other companies were also doing shady accounting, that the internet boom was going strong, that the economy was very strong, that the GAAP was being followed. All those explanations would also paper over the fact that the crime arose out of the greed of the perpetrator. Given all the circumstances but absent the greed of the executives, the grand theft would not have taken place.

Now back to Nehru: even if one were to grant all the circumstances that you cite above (but only for the sake of argument), the fact remains that central planning was personally very convenient for the Cha-cha.

The children of Imperialism are not weaned on the milk of humility; they are brought up on heady diet of hubris. Nehru was an imperialist who believed that his destiny was to rule the brown masses and he continually rejected sane advice. Look deeply into any problem that India faces and you will see Nehru’s finger-prints all over it.

Take Kashmir. Who was it who let the matter get out of hand? Nehru with his idiotic insistence that the UN be called to mediate the dispute. Talking of the UN, who was it who rejected the proposal that India take a seat in the permanent security council? Nehru. There is not enough space here to go into all the horrendous mistakes.

Then there is the argument that says, “Don’t blame Nehru for the screw-up that India is. We, Indians, are to blame.” That line is similar to the one Niket made in the comments in the last post.

Yes, in fact, we are to blame. Indians are basically collectively a bunch of clueless retards. They collectively elect leaders who are clueless retards and these clueless retards choose policies that keep the country of hundreds of millions of people in abject poverty. No argument there. A country deserves the leaders it gets, especially so in a so-called democracy. I agree that Bihar deserves and gets Rabri Devi and Laloo Prasad Yadav.

So if the collective is to blame, why is Nehru elevated to the position of a demi-god? Not just that, anyone associated with his family is elevated as well. With very rare exceptions, everything in India which has a personal name associated with it is named after the Nehru-Gandhi family. The Borivali National Park close to my abode is named “Sanjay Gandhi National Park”. All sorts of educational institutions are named after the members of a family that collectively have fewer educational achievements than yours truly.

Allow me to repeat that: The entire Nehru-Gandhi family — Cha-chaji, Indira, Rajiv, Sonia, Sanjay, Rahul, Prianka – collectively haver fewer educational qualifications than I (an average person) do. If I am not mistaken, they don’t have one solitary single college degree among the whole lot of them.

{To be continued.}

On Being Ruled by Toads

When I was growing up in Nagpur, I had a friend who used to proclaim “India is ruled by toads” whenever we discussed India’s politicians. Being called a toad was the worst insult we could come up with. He later joined the Indian Police Service, worked in Mumbai as a Deputy Commissioner of Police, and was killed in the line of duty. He was one of the most decent human beings I have ever had the good fortune to know.

What brought all this to mind was an item about misbehaving politicians that reader “Ad” pointed out.

About a dozen Maharashtra ministers, 30 legislators and many top bureaucrats prevented a Nagpur-bound Jet Airways flight from taking off from Mumbai airport on Monday. Reason: the aircraft’s air-conditioner was not working.

Only one of the two airconditioning systems was functioning, it appears. It is a temporary inconvenience definitely not life-threatening. The crew is allowed to operate the flight because it meets the “Minimum Equipment List”. In any event, once the aircraft is in flight, one airconditioner is sufficient. This was explained to them but they “trooped into the cockpit” and one even tried to open an exit while the plane was in taxiing.

An aircraft delayed by a couple of hours and about a hundred passengers inconvenienced is not a really big deal. Or is it? Think about the fact that aircrafts are used throughout the day. The delay of the flight ripples through the system and all subsequent flights involving that aircraft are delayed. Thousands of people are directly affected. Many more multiples are indirectly affected. When a passenger arrives about 2 hours late, perhaps a meeting is missed, or a connection to another flight is missed. The initial disturbance has second and third order effects.

The politicians of India see themselves as the kings and they regard the citizens as their subjects and the country as their fiefdom. These people place themselves above the law. They are a law unto themselves. They are not answerable to anyone, except to their overlords who are the party chiefs. They go around in cars with red flashing lights on the top. When they travel on roads, seeing the red lights, police clear the streets. The citizens wait for these red-light-on-top cars to pass by. “The toads rush by”, as my friend would have said.

India is as I have maintained before a cargo-cult democracy. Centuries of being ruled by foreigners creates a culture of servility and powerlessness that is hard to overcome. In a strict sense, Indians deserve to be ruled by toads because they “elect” to be ruled by toads. Being ruled by toads has the ripple effect that finally culminates in an abjectly poor country that is euphemistically referred to as a “developing economy.”

Comment: Sonal Vaidya writes:

Reading your post “On Being Ruled by Toads” I wonder what do you think should happen to change the situation? Will India be always exploited by the corrupt power mongers? May be a revolution is a solution.

Raj Waghray writes:

What is worse is that these old senile toads(?) are now talking out of turn outside India and that too on issues as critical as our security.

Natwar’s N-speak Baffles New Delhi

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