Delhi can never be improved — until the rest of India improves!

As a general rule, capital cities are economically unproductive places. They neither grow food nor create industry. What they produce, or are supposed to produce, are public discussion, debate, decisions, as well as data and information for governance of the country as a whole.  People who come to capital cities — whether politicians or foreign diplomats or businessmen or students or even bureaucrats and journalists — should come there only for  temporary purposes, and then, once their work or business is done,  leave for their own “native places”… 

Of course only one city is a capital city.  Other cities and towns develop naturally in response to economies of scale in commerce and industry. My second piece of academic research at Cambridge back in 1976-77, which I talked about at the Delhi School of Economics in 1977-78 as a  Visiting Assistant Professor, had to do with India and other developing countries markedly being “Dual Economies”, where city and countryside, towns and metros and hinterland, are linked continuously by that wonderful two-way mass movement known as internal migration….

There is obviously seasonal migration of agricultural workers in search of urban employment during the time a crop is growing in the ground, returning home for the harvest and other festivals.  Beyond such seasonal flows, we may expect  rural-urban migration to continue depending on individual family calculations of expected employment, income, benefits etc, until as it were, the last person who has been thinking about migrating from village to town or from town to city decides not to move but to remain where he/she is.  Families typically maximise their well-being by having some members here, other members there or there etc, meeting up again during seasonal festivals when they can.  Besides, with modern commuter railways, large numbers of day-workers and vendors travel in and out of cities from the towns and villages every day.

The academic literature is vast and excellent, starting with Dale Jorgensen “The development of a dual economy”, 1961 EJ, Harris-Todaro, 1970, AER, and easily available, Jerome Rothenberg’s 1975 MIT discussion paper “On the economics of internal migration”… See too e.g. from 2010

In case of Delhi, despite its lack of water and its inhospitable climatic conditions on the edge of the Rajasthan desert, the British stamped it to become their Imperial child in India for ever more…  Yet even the British routinely fled to Simla or England every summer — as the current Delhi elite flees abroad to their exported children in America, Europe, Australia etc…  

Since British times, Delhi has been pampered with India’s public resources.  Not making its own food or clothing, it must import everything from the rest of India. After 1947,  millions of Hindu & Sikh refugees from the new Pakistan set up shop… then came migrants from all over, Bengal, the South, North East, UP, Bihar, Haryana, Rajasthan, Punjab, Kashmir — everywhere.  Now Delhi’s problems can never be solved until the endless migration slows down. Delhi is India’s capital and the more it is pampered, the better it seems to become and hence the more attractive it seems to India’s many millions of free people.  It is not hard to see that Delhi can never do enough for its residents because, since, qua capital city, it does not grow food or create industry (and is supposed to produce only public debate, decisions etc as a service industry), whatever it spends on public services comes from India’s exchequer, which in turn creates incentives for mass migration to continue from everywhere with no equilibrium being ever reached. 

The fascist solution that was, as I recall, suggested momentarily by a former Congress CM of Delhi, would be to forcibly prevent people from coming in from the outside.   Apparently the PRC as a totalitarian regime has some kind of system of internal passports which restricts citizens from travelling into metros on their own free will.  That cannot work in free India, where the Constitution would forbit forbid it. Hence the correct long-term way to help Delhi solve its problems probably involves trying to improve the rest of the country!  It is something for the AAP Government to think about when it talks to Narendra Modi: seek to help the aam admi *outside* Delhi if you want to really help the aam admi inside Delhi!  In the meantime, try to improve efficiency in the local public goods the local government is supposed to produce, and do not ask for more resources from India.

This has been a 15 minute analysis…More to come…   


Land of my fathers: Why I am Indian

From Facebook:


Subroto Roy  says to Mr Tripathi: “An oath is an oath. For myself, my love for America, where I lived some 16 years, age 25-41, was enough for me to wish to become an American — if I did not have to abandon the land of my fathers which needed me perhaps more.”


see too

My mother & her two daughters, my sisters, Bombay c. 1953


This is from about 1953 in Bombay, two years before I arrived in the family, with Tunu (Sucheta) holding the teddy-bear and Buju (Suchandra) looking sober and responsible on my mother’s left.   There seems to be a radio in the background as well as a small bust of the poet Rabindranath Tagore.

Tunu lived August 12 1947 until January 26 1990.  This is how I recall her last, c. 1988,  after she had lost one breast to cancer and suffered other tragedies.


She, seven years older than me, was really my first teacher, telling my infant mind about the world it found itself in even before I ended up at Lady Evelyn’s kindergarten in Ottawa.  There will be more of her here in due course — building a snowman together in the Canadian snows and other escapades.   I wept much, far away in Honolulu, when she died in Calcutta aged 42.   She would have been a  happy grandmother today, enjoying her three grandchildren: GetAttachment.aspx3

Buju lived February 14 1943 until January 10 1998. She was 12 years older than me and loved me dearly and I wept much at her tragic passing — she had no children and I cremated her with the full honours that she might have received had she left a son.

I shall write more of her in time. Meanwhile, I remain grateful for Nana Mouskouri’s rendition of  Amazing Grace as there is an uncanny resemblance.

December twenty years ago is when I last saw Tunu, having returned from Honolulu to say what we knew was our last goodbye; December twelve years ago was when I last saw Buju. “The wise grieve not for those who live or for those who die, for life and death shall pass away, and I and thou and those kings of men, shall live for ever and ever” advises the Bhagavad Gita as I recall; but perhaps the advice is wrong since the wise like the unwise do grieve and should.

On Tolerance and Intolerance

When I first returned from America to live in India and saw a bull lazily sitting on the road every day, I thought it rather a waste of food. After a few years in India I realised the bulls and cows, the stray dogs, the snakes, the birds, each had its own social and economic equilibrium. Most fun were stray dog families, the macho dad playing with his pups, watched by the gentle mom. People have their own equilibria too.

Subroto Roy

on Facebook today

India is not a monarchy! We urgently need to universalize the French concept of “citoyen”! (2009)

Each of the two sons of Feroze and Indira Gandhi died tragically  in his prime, years ago, and it is unbecoming to see their family successors squabble today. Everyone may need to be constantly reminded that this handful of persons are in fact ordinary citizens in our democratic polity, deserving India’s attention principally in such a capacity.

What did, indeed, Feroze Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sanjay Gandhi, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi “live and die for”?  It was not any one identifiable thing or any set of common things, that seems certain.

Feroze Gandhi from all accounts stood for integrity in Indian politics and journalism; it is not impossible his premature death was related to  his wife’s negligence because she had returned to her father’s side instead.  Jawaharlal Nehru did not do well as a father to promote his daughter so blatantly as his assistant either before 1947


or after.


Nehru did not achieve political power until well into middle age; his catastrophic misjudgment of communist ideology and intentions, especially Chinese communist ideology and intentions, contributed to an Indian defeat at war, and led soon thereafter to his health collapsing and his death. He and Indira somewhat nonchalantly made a visit to Ceylon even as the Chinese attack was commencing; a high point of my own childhood was saying namaste on October 13 1962 at Colombo airport when they arrived.


Feroze and Indira’s younger son evidently came to die in a self-inflicted aeronautical mishap of some sort.  What did Sanjay Gandhi “live for”?  The book Foundations of India’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s created twenty years ago in America


has a chapter titled “The State of Governance” by the political scientist James Manor which says:

“After 1973 or so, personal loyalty tended increasingly to become the main criterion for advancement in the Congress Party. People who appeared to be loyal often replaced skilled political managers who seemed too independent.  Many of these new arrivals did not worry, as an earlier generation of Congress officials  had done, that excessive private profiteering might earn the wrath of party leaders.  In 1975, Sanjay Gandhi suddenly became the second most powerful figure in Indian politics.  He saw that the parties of the left and right had strong organizations that could put large numbers of militants into the streets for demonstrations while Congress had no such capacity.  In the belief that Congress should also have this kind of muscle, he began recruiting elements from urban centres including the criminal underworld.  The problem of corruption was exacerbated by demands that State-level Congress leaders place large sums of money at the disposal not of the national party but of the persons who presided over it.  Congress chief ministers realized that a fulsome response to these demands went a long way toward insulating them from interference from New Delhi, and a monumental system of fund-raising sprang up.  When so many people were being drawn into semi-institutionalized malfeasance, which seemed to be condoned by higher authorities, it was inevitable many would skim off portions of the funds raised for personal benefit.  Corruption soared. The problem was compounded by the tendency for people to be dismissed from public and party offices abruptly, leading many Congress politicians to fear that their time in power might be quite short.”

I do not have reason to disagree with this  opinion  contained in the book  that I and WE James created  at the University of Hawaii twenty years ago.   If anything, Sanjay’s political model may have spread  itself across  other Indian  political parties in one way or another.

What does strike me as odd in light of current  political controversy is that  several  of Sanjay’s friends and colleagues  are now part-and-parcel of the   Sonia Congress – one must ask, were they such fair-weather  friends that they never  lent a hand or a shoulder to his young widow and her infant son especially against the cruelties Sanjay’s mother bestowed upon them?  Did they offer help or guidance to Sanjay’s son, have they tried to guide him away from becoming the bigoted young politician he seems to wish to be today?

Indira’s major faults included playing favourites among her bahus and her grandchildren with as much gusto as any mother-in-law portrayed on the tackiest TV-serial today.

What were her good deeds?  There was one, and it was an enormously large one, of paramount significance for the country and our subcontinent as a whole: her statesmanship before, during and to some extent after the war that created Bangladesh.  My father has preserved a classic photograph over the years of Indira’s finest period as an international stateswoman, when she visited Paris and other foreign capitals including Washington in the autumn of 1971.


She tried to prevent the Yahya Khan/Tikka Khan  genocide in Bangladesh when many  Bangladeshis came to be sacrificed at the altar of the Nixon-Kissinger visits to Mao and Zhou.  She made a major diplomatic effort in world capitals to avert war with West Pakistan over its atrocities in East Pakistan. But war could not be averted, and within a few weeks, in December 1971, Bangladesh was born.

“Indira Gandhi’s one and paramount good deed as India’s leader and indeed as a world leader of her time was to have fought a war that was so rare in international law for having been unambiguously just. And she fought it flawlessly. The cause had been thrust upon her by an evil enemy’s behaviour against his own people, an enemy supported by the world’s strongest military power with pretensions to global leadership. Victims of the enemy’s wickedness were scores of millions of utterly defenceless, penniless human beings. Indira Gandhi did everything right. She practised patient but firm diplomacy on the world’s stage to avert war if it was at all possible to do. She chose her military generals well and took their professional judgment seriously as to when to go to war and how to win it. Finally, in victory she was magnanimous to the enemy that had been defeated. Children’s history-books in India should remember her as the stateswoman who freed a fraternal nation from tyranny, at great expense to our own people. As a war-leader, Indira Gandhi displayed extraordinary bravery, courage and good sense.” (From my review article of Inder Malhotra’s Indira Gandhi, first published in The Statesman May 7 2006.)

“She had indeed fought that rarest of things in international law: the just war. Supported by the world’s strongest military, an evil enemy had made victims of his own people. Indira tried patiently on the international stage to avert war, but also chose her military generals well and took their professional judgment seriously as to when to fight if it was inevitable and how to win. Finally she was magnanimous (to a fault) towards the enemy ~ who was not some stranger to us but our own estranged brother and cousin.  It seemed to be her and independent India’s finest hour. A fevered nation was thus ready to forgive and forget her catastrophic misdeeds until that time….” (From  “Unhealthy Delhi” first published in The Statesman June 11 2007).

What did Indira die for?  I have said it was “blowback” from domestic and/or international politics, similar to what happened to Rajiv Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto in later years.

“Indira Gandhi died in “blowback” from the unrest she and her younger son and others in their party had opportunistically fomented among Sikh fundamentalists and sectarians since the late 1970s.  Rajiv Gandhi died in “blowback” from an erroneous imperialistic foreign policy that he, as Prime Minister, had been induced to make by jingoistic Indian diplomats, a move that got India’s military needlessly involved in the then-nascent Sri Lankan civil war.  Benazir Bhutto similarly may be seen to have died in “blowback” from her own political activity as prime minister and opposition leader since the late 1980s, including her own encouragement of Muslim fundamentalist forces.  Certainly in all three cases, as in all assassinations, there were lapses of security too and imprudent political judgments made that contributed to the tragic outcomes.” From “An Indian Reply to President Zardari”.

And then there was Rajiv.  He did not know me except in his last eight months. It has now emerged that Dr Manmohan Singh’s first bypass operation was in 1990-1991, coinciding precisely with the time I gave Rajiv the results of the perestroika-for-India project that I had led at the University of Hawaii since 1986, an encounter that sparked the 1991 economic reform as has been told elsewhere. Dr Singh was simply not in that loop, nor has he himself ever claimed to have been in it — regardless of what innumerable flatterers, sycophants and other straightforwardly mendacious characters in Delhi’s high power circles have been making out over the years since.  Facts are rather stubborn things.

As a 35-year old newcomer to Delhi and a complete layman on security issues, I did what little I knew  how to try to reduce the vulnerability that I felt  Rajiv  faced from unknown lists of assassins.

“That night KR dropped me at Tughlak Road where I used to stay with friends. In the car I told him, as he was a military man with heavy security cover for himself as a former Governor of J&K, that it seemed to me Rajiv’s security was being unprofessionally handled, that he was vulnerable to a professional assassin. KR asked me if I had seen anything specific by way of vulnerability. With John Kennedy and De Gaulle in mind, I said I feared Rajiv was open to a long-distance sniper, especially when he was on his campaign trips around the country.  This was one of several attempts I made since October 1990 to convey my clear impression to whomever I thought might have an effect that Rajiv seemed to me extremely vulnerable. Rajiv had been on sadhbhavana journeys, back and forth into and out of Delhi. I had heard he was fed up with his security apparatus, and I was not surprised given it seemed at the time rather bureaucratized. It would not have been appropriate for me to tell him directly that he seemed to me to be vulnerable, since I was a newcomer and a complete amateur about security issues, and besides if he agreed he might seem to himself to be cowardly or have to get even closer to his security apparatus. Instead I pressed the subject relentlessly with whomever I could. I suggested specifically two things: (a) that the system in place at Rajiv’s residence and on his itineraries be tested, preferably by some internationally recognized specialists in counter-terrorism; (b) that Rajiv be encouraged to announce a shadow-cabinet. The first would increase the cost of terrorism, the second would reduce the potential political benefit expected by terrorists out to kill him. On the former, it was pleaded that security was a matter being run by the V. P. Singh and then Chandrashekhar Governments at the time. On the latter, it was said that appointing a shadow cabinet might give the appointees the wrong idea, and lead to a challenge to Rajiv’s leadership. This seemed to me wrong, as there was nothing to fear from healthy internal contests for power so long as they were conducted in a structured democratic framework. I pressed to know how public Rajiv’s itinerary was when he travelled. I was told it was known to everyone and that was the only way it could be since Rajiv wanted to be close to the people waiting to see him and had been criticized for being too aloof. This seemed to me totally wrong and I suggested that if Rajiv wanted to be seen as meeting the crowds waiting for him then that should be done by planning to make random stops on the road that his entourage would take. This would at least add some confusion to the planning of potential terrorists out to kill him. When I pressed relentlessly, it was said I should probably speak to “Madame”, i.e. to Mrs. Rajiv Gandhi. That seemed to me highly inappropriate, as I could not be said to be known to her and I should not want to unduly concern her in the event it was I who was completely wrong in my assessment of the danger. The response that it was not in Congress’s hands, that it was the responsibility of the V. P. Singh and later the Chandrashekhar Governments, seemed to me completely irrelevant since Congress in its own interests had a grave responsibility to protect Rajiv Gandhi irrespective of what the Government’s security people were doing or not doing. Rajiv was at the apex of the power structure of the party, and a key symbol of secularism and progress for the entire country. Losing him would be quite irreparable to the party and the country. It shocked me that the assumption was not being made that there were almost certainly professional killers actively out to kill Rajiv Gandhi — this loving family man and hapless pilot of India’s ship of state who did not seem to have wished to make enemies among India’s terrorists but whom the fates had conspired to make a target. The most bizarre and frustrating response I got from several respondents was that I should not mention the matter at all as otherwise the threat would become enlarged and the prospect made more likely! This I later realized was a primitive superstitious response of the same sort as wearing amulets and believing in Ptolemaic astrological charts that assume the Sun goes around the Earth — centuries after Kepler and Copernicus. Perhaps the entry of scientific causality and rationality is where we must begin in the reform of India’s governance and economy. What was especially repugnant after Rajiv’s assassination was to hear it said by his enemies that it marked an end to “dynastic” politics in India. This struck me as being devoid of all sense because the unanswerable reason for protecting Rajiv Gandhi was that we in India, if we are to have any pretensions at all to being a civilized and open democratic society, cannot tolerate terrorism and assassination as means of political change. Either we are constitutional democrats willing to fight for the privileges of a liberal social order, or ours is truly a primitive and savage anarchy concealed beneath a veneer of fake Westernization…..  the news suddenly said Rajiv Gandhi had been killed. All India wept. What killed him was not merely a singular act of criminal terrorism, but the system of humbug, incompetence and sycophancy that surrounds politics in India and elsewhere. I was numbed by rage and sorrow, and did not return to Delhi. Eleven years later, on 25 May 2002, press reports said “P. V. Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh lost their place in Congress history as architects of economic reforms as the Congress High command sponsored an amendment to a resolution that had laid credit at the duo’s door. The motion was moved by…. Digvijay Singh asserting that the reforms were a brainchild of the late Rajiv Gandhi and that the Rao-Singh combine had simply nudged the process forward.” Rajiv’s years in Government, like those of Indira Gandhi, were in fact marked by profligacy and the resource cost of poor macroeconomic policy since bank-nationalisation may be as high as Rs. 125 trillion measured in 1994 rupees. Certainly though it was Rajiv Gandhi as Leader of the Opposition in his last months who was the principal architect of the economic reform that came to begin after his passing.”

(I have had to say that I do not think the policies pursued by Dr Singh thus far have been consistent with the direction I believe Rajiv,  in a second term as PM, would have wished to take. See, for example, “India’s Macroeconomics”, “Fallacious Finance”, “Against Quackery”, “Mistaken Macroeconomics”, and other articles listed and linked at “Memo to Dr Kaushik Basu”.  See also

The treatment of Indira or Rajiv or Sanjay or their family successors as royalty of any kind whatsoever in India was, is, and remains absurd, reflecting stunted growth of Indian democracy.  I remember well the obsequiousness I witnessed on the part of old men in the presence of Rajiv Gandhi.

Tribal and mansabdari political cultures still dominate Northern and Western regions of the Indian subcontinent (descending from the Sikhs, Muslims, Rajputs, Mahrattas etc).

Nehru in his younger days was an exemplary democrat, and he had an outstanding democratically-minded young friend in Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah.


But Nehru and Abdullah as Westernized political liberals were exceptions  in the autocratic/monarchical political cultures of north India (and Pakistan) which continue today and stunt the growth of any democratic mindset.

What we may urgently need is some French  Liberté, égalité, fraternité ! to create a simple ordinary citoyen universally in the country and the subcontinent as a whole!  May we please import a Marquis de Lafayette?

Bengal and parts of Dravidian India have long lost fondness for monarchy and autocracy —  Western political liberalism began to reach  Kolkata  almost two centuries ago after all (see e.g. Tapan Raychaudhuri’s  fine study Europe Reconsidered). Both Nepal and Pakistan have been undergoing radical transformation towards democracy in recent  months, as Bengali Pakistanis had done 40 years earlier under Sheikh Mujib.  I said last year and say again that there may be a dangerous  intellectual vacuum around the throne of Delhi.

Subroto Roy

Pre-Partition Indian Secularism Case-Study: Fuzlul Huq and Manindranath Roy

The 1940 Lahore Resolution of the Muslim League did not mention the word “Pakistan” but is considered its political blueprint.  MA Jinnah’s political support lay among  the Muslim elite in Muslim-minority areas of India — he needed a show of support from the Muslim-majority provinces of Punjab and Bengal too, and indeed Sikandar Hyat Khan and AK Fuzlul Huq  came to draft and present the Lahore Resolution.

Fuzlul Huq was Prime Minister of undivided Bengal from 1937-1943.  On 11 May 1942, he led the bridegroom’s procession when my father went to wed my mother.  Here is Fuzlul Huq entering the car to do so, with my grandfather Manindranath Roy helping him into the car.  My mother’s family were surprised; they were Bengali Brahmins from Jamshedpur and did not quite know what to make of all this.  My mother, aged 16  at the time,  remembers she was non-plussed to find Fuzlul Huq ‘s bulky frame  seated for some reason between her and her new husband in the car on the return journey too!

Fuzlul Huq, having been a young colleague of Surendranath Roy in the Bengal Legislative Council, was a family friend and treated my grandfather, Manindranath Roy, with affection.  (Manindranath was a Justice of the Peace, but unlike his father was not political.)

Fuzlul Huq would apparently make requests of my grandmother for delivered meals during political confabulations; my grandfather’s family had been forced to leave Behala as the family home had been requisitioned by the military to be a hospital during the war, and they lived instead  in Ballygunge.  My father recalls cycling from there with the requested food to the political confabulations in the middle of the wartime blackout (Japanese aeroplanes had apparently reached Calcutta on their bombing missions).

Here too is a note dated 9 August 1945 from Fuzlul Huq to my grandfather thanking him for food and sending his “best blessings” to my grandmother — a Muslim, one of the founders of Pakistan, sends  his blessings to an orthodox Hindu Brahmin family and everyone remains completely cheerful and apolitical: such was normal Indian secularism in practice at the time.   Partition between India and Pakistan and the ghastliness that accompanied it, and the hatred and bloodshed that has followed, were all quite beyond anyone’s imagination at the time.

see also

Rai Bahadur Umbika Churn Rai (1827-1902)

Umbika Churn Rai (1827-1902) my great great grandfather, was the founder of the modern Roy family of Behala. He himself was the great grandson of Raja Daibaki Nandan Rai who is said to have brought the family to Behala from Anarpur at the time of the Mahratta invasions. Daibaki Nandan was probably gifted land at Behala as was customary towards Brahmins. The legend is that upon his arrival, a famed band of local dacoits/robbers gave him an ultimatum to surrender the family’s jewels or fight. Daibaki Nandan stood and fought, had his arm cut off by a scimitar, and died bleeding. The family then fell materially for two generations and were “toll pandits” or “tree-shade teachers” under Jagat Ram Rai and Durga Prasad Rai.

Umbika Churn was Durga Prasad’s third son. He was a brilliant ambitious man, well-built and over 6 ft tall, who taught himself English, attended the madrassa started by Warren Hastings to learn Persian, and was well-versed in Sanskrit. Being knowledgeable of Sanskrit, Persian and English at a time of conflict of laws between English, Muslim and Hindu systems, he started as a translator in the Alipore Court under Sir Barnes Peacock (1810-1890). When Peacock went to the new Supreme Court in Calcutta in 1859 as its first Chief Justice, Umbika Churn went with him and rose to become the first Chief Translator. He was made a Rai Bahadur at the time of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee. Rai Bahadur Road in Calcutta is named after him.

The Golden Book of India published at the time of the Victoria Jubilee said Umbika Churn was a descendant of one Raja Gajendra Narayan Rai, Rai-Raian, a finance official under the Great Mughal Jahangir.

There will be much more about him here in due course. Most interesting is the fact that Chief Justice Peacock who had been  his mentor, when he returned to England in 1870, later wrote asking him and his eldest son Surendranath for help on behalf of his son, a lawyer, being sent to Calcutta from England. Suren, himself a lawyer at the time, wrote back and assured him he would help find the son work in Calcutta!

I shall upload that correspondence when I am able to.

From Facebook 18 June 2013:

How interesting to find an 1847 depiction of the famous Calcutta Madrassa originated by Warren Hastings (1732–1818) ! … My paternal great great grand-father breached Brahminical rules by insisting on learning Persian there — it was a time of much confusion of laws: Persian was still the, or at least an, official language of the courts, just giving way to English while Hindu law required Sanskrit… Umbik Churn Rai (1827-1902) had had Sanskrit lessons at home, acquired English, and now learnt Persian: he started as a young man as a Court translator in the Alipore Court, came to the attention of the newly arrived Judge, Sir Barnes Peacock (1810-1890), who took him with him in due course when he became the first Chief Justice of the new Calcutta High Court in 1859? 1862?, and made him Chief Translator … We have a fragmentary letter somewhere from Peacock, after retirement in England, written to Umbik’s son, my great grand father, saying his son was coming to Calcutta from England and could be please try to help him find work! A time of camraderie…


And along with Hastings’s Madrassa came Hindu College too, also depicted as of 1847, which became in due course Presidency… Associated to it was a Hindu School too, and our family legend went that Vidyasagar (1820-1891) himself, took his friend Umbik’s eldest son, SN Roy (1860-1929), my great grand father, by hand as a child to attend it.


Rabindranath’s daughter writes to her friend, my grandmother, 1930

11 March 2010
My paternal grandfather, Manindranath Roy (not the Communist who took the same pseudonym), had been a friend and colleague of Nagen Ganguly, the son-in-law of Rabindranath Tagore.  

This 1930 letter, perhaps from Puri judging by its contents (or could it be Vizag as there is a Mr Naidu as a “local man”?), was sent by Nagen’s wife, Meera Debi, to her friend, my grandmother.  It is being published here as it may throw a little light on Bengal’s social life at the time. Though women wrote in Bengali amongst themselves, Bengali men educated in English seemed to invariably correspond in English.

“My Dear,  Today we reached here safe and sound. The journey was smooth. Monibabu had asked someone to receive us at the station but we did not need his help as my nephew came to receive us. People here seem to be veritable cut-throats.! If you have no acquaintance here there is every possibility of your being cheated. My nephew, Ajin, took a local man , Mr. Naidu with him. If this person had not bargained with the porters they would have created great chaos demanding …….Rs. just to get our luggage off the train. Mr. Naidu also fixed the fare with the coachman. In fact the servant , the gardener, everyone has this tendency to extort as much as possible. Our gardener has fixed us one helping hand but I don’t find him suitable. He will only bring water, buy daily necessities, and sweep the floors but he will not wash utensils  or clothes. He disobeyed me even when I asked him to hang the clothes for drying! Our own servant who has come with us can easily do the cooking along with sweeping and shopping. So, how practical will it be to have another help just for the washing!  Today we had lunch at my brother’s. Charubabu’s son-in-law came to look after our requirements as soon as we had come here. A great disadvantage of this house is that there is no shelf or rack to keep a single thing . There are only one table and a small table. Of these  one has to be kept in the bathroom for toiletries and the other will have crockery on it. There is no other almirah or cupboard to keep the crockery so that I can use this table for writing purposes. Anyway, I feel embarrassed to ask for anything because we are enjoying the house free of cost. I asked for only one thing but in vain. It was for a dressing table. It never entered my mind to  bring a mirror as I had thought it was someone’s home. Naturally none of the three of us had thought it necessary. Nevertheless, I really like this house. It is on the sea beach. It merely lacks a few small necessities. I am feeling very drowsy because I have taken a bath in the sea after arriving here. I hope you are all hale and hearty. That day I got really scared while coming back from your home.  My regards to all of you.  Yours, Meera” .

From Facebook 8 May 2012

Rabindranath Tagore was a great man, a year younger than my great grandfather. My father when a boy paid his respects to him many a time. My grandfather worked with Tagore’s son-in-law and their wives were friends. A letter from the daughter to my grandmother is at my blog (translated very kindly by KM).   Tagore, as a creative genius and literary spirit, would have been appalled by all the worship he has been subjected to in recent decades. A holiday for his 150th birthday? He would have I am sure preferred to see new genius thrive, not his work endlessly repeated, made a hash of, bowdlerized….

What I (also) find odd is no one realises that no Muslim can go about worshipping Tagore or Vivekananda etc statues and photos with garlands and namastes etc. And in this I am wholly Muslim.

The Roys of Behala 1928


This is a 1928 photo of the male members of the Roy Family of Behala, south of Calcutta, along with the children. Adult women would have been behind an effective “purdah”. The bearded patriarch in the middle is my great grandfather, the Hon’ble Surendranath Roy (1860-1929), an eminent statesman of Bengal of his time (We did not know until recently he was present and badly injured, along with Ardeshir Dalal, by Bhagat Singh’s bomb thrown in the Central Legislative Assembly on 8 April 1929 during the Simon Commission deliberations. He died seven months later.)

Surendranath was the eldest son of Rai Bahadur Umbik Churn Rai (1827-1902). The Golden Book of India published at the time of the Victoria Jubilee said Umbik was the twelfth descendant of one Raja Gajendra Narayan Rai, Rai-Raian, a finance official under the Great Mughal Jahangir.

Surendranath’s second son, my grandfather, Manindranath Roy, is seated second from the right in the second row with spectacles and moustache.

The bright lad fourth from the left in the last row, with his hand on his knee, would grow up to be my father.



Against Quackery (2007)

Against Quackery

First published in two parts in The Sunday Statesman, September 23 2007, The Statesman September 24 2007


Subroto Roy

Manmohan and Sonia have violated Rajiv Gandhi’s intended reforms; the Communists have been appeased or bought; the BJP is incompetent

WASTE, fraud and abuse are inevitable in the use and allocation of public property and resources in India as elsewhere, but Government is supposed to fight and resist such tendencies. The Sonia-Manmohan Government have done the opposite, aiding and abetting a wasteful anti-economics ~ i.e., an economic quackery. Vajpayee-Advani and other Governments, including Narasimha-Manmohan in 1991-1996, were just as complicit in the perverse policy-making. So have been State Governments of all regional parties like the CPI-M in West Bengal, DMK/ AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, Congress/NCP/ BJP/Sena in Maharashtra, TDP /Congress in Andhra Pradesh, SP/BJP/BSP in Uttar Pradesh etc. Our dismal politics merely has the pot calling the kettle black while national self-delusion and superstition reign in the absence of reason.

The general pattern is one of well-informed, moneyed, mostly city-based special interest groups (especially including organised capital and organised labour) dominating government agendas at the cost of ill-informed, diffused anonymous individual citizens ~ peasants, small businessmen, non-unionized workers, old people, housewives, medical students etc. The extremely expensive “nuclear deal” with the USA is merely one example of such interest group politics.

Nuclear power is and shall always remain of tiny significance as a source of India’s electricity (compared to e.g. coal and hydro); hence the deal has practically nothing to do with the purported (and mendacious) aim of improving the country’s “energy security” in the long run. It has mostly to do with big business lobbies and senior bureaucrats and politicians making a grab, as they always have done, for India’s public purse, especially access to foreign currency assets. Some $300 million of India’s public money had to be paid to GE and Bechtel Corporation before any nuclear talks could begin in 2004-2005 ~ the reason was the Dabhol fiasco of the 1990s, a sheer waste for India’s ordinary people. Who was responsible for that loss? Pawar-Mahajan-Munde-Thackeray certainly but also India’s Finance Minister at the time, Manmohan Singh, and his top Finance Ministry bureaucrat, Montek Ahluwalia ~ who should never have let the fiasco get off the ground but instead actively promoted and approved it.

Cost-benefit analysis prior to any public project is textbook operating procedure for economists, and any half-competent economist would have accounted for the scenario of possible currency-depreciation which made Dabhol instantly unviable. Dr Singh and Mr Ahluwalia failed that test badly and it cost India dearly. The purchase of foreign nuclear reactors on a turnkey basis upon their recommendation now reflects similar financial dangers for the country on a vastly larger scale over decades.

Our Government seems to function most expeditiously in purchasing foreign arms, aircraft etc ~ not in improving the courts, prisons, police, public utilities, public debt. When the purchase of 43 Airbus aircraft surfaced, accusations of impropriety were made by Boeing ~ until the local Airbus representative said on TV that Boeing need not complain because they were going to be rewarded too and soon 68 aircraft were ordered from Boeing!

India imports all passenger and most military aircraft, besides spare parts and high-octane jet fuel. Domestic aviation generates near zero forex revenues and incurs large forex costs ~ a debit in India’s balance of payments. Domestic airline passengers act as importers subsidised by our meagre exporters of textiles, leather, handicrafts, tea, etc. What a managerially-minded PM and Aviation Minister needed to do before yielding to temptations of buying new aircraft was to get tough with the pampered managements and unions of the nationalized airlines and stand up on behalf of ordinary citizens and taxpayers, who, after all, are mostly rail or road-travellers not jet-setters.

The same pattern of negligent policy-behaviour led Finance Minister P. Chidambaram in an unprecedented step to mention in his 2007 Union Budget Speech the private American companies Blackstone and GE ~ endorsing the Ahluwalia/Deepak Parekh idea that India’s forex reserves may be made available to be lent out to favoured private businesses for purported “infrastructure” development. We may now see chunks of India’s foreign exchange reserves being “borrowed” and never returned ~ a monumental scam in front of the CBI’s noses.

The Reserve Bank’s highest echelons may have become complicit in all this, permitting and encouraging a large capital flight to take place among the few million Indians who read the English newspapers and have family-members abroad. Resident Indians have been officially permitted to open bank accounts of US $100,000 abroad, as well as transfer gifts of $50,000 per annum to their adult children already exported abroad ~ converting their largely untaxed paper rupees at an artificially favourable exchange-rate.

In particular, Mr Ratan Tata (under a misapprehension he may do whatever Lakshmi Mittal does) has been allowed to convert Indian rupees into some US$13,000,000,000 to make a cash purchase of a European steel company. The same has been allowed of the Birlas, Wipro, Dr Reddy’s and numerous other Indian corporations in the organised sector ~ three hundred million dollars here, five hundred million dollars there, etc. Western businessmen now know all they have to do is flatter the egos of Indian boxwallahs enough and they might have found a buyer for their otherwise bankrupt or sick local enterprise. Many newcomers to New York City have been sold the Brooklyn Bridge before. “There’s a sucker born every minute” is the classic saying of American capitalism.

The Sonia-Manmohan Government, instead of hobnobbing with business chambers, needed to get Indian corporations to improve their accounting, audit and governance, and reduce managerial pilfering and embezzlement, which is possible only if Government first set an example.

Why have Indian foreign currency reserves zoomed up in recent years? Not mainly because we are exporting more textiles, tea, software engineers, call centre services or new products to the world, but because Indian corporations have been allowed to borrow abroad, converting their hoards of paper rupees into foreign debt. Forex reserves are a residual in a country’s international balance of payments and are not like tax-resources available to be spent by Government; India’s reserves largely constitute foreign liabilities of Indian residents. This may bear endless repetition as the PM and his key acolytes seem impervious to normal postgraduate-level economics textbooks.

Other official fallacies include thinking India’s savings rate is near 32 per cent and that clever bureaucratic use of it can cause high growth. In fact, real growth arises not because of what politicians and bureaucrats do but because of spontaneous technological progress, improved productivity and learning-by-doing of the general population ~ mostly despite not because of an exploitative parasitic State. What has been mismeasured as high savings is actually expansion of bank-deposits in a fractional reserve banking system caused by runaway government deficit-spending.

Another fallacy has been that agriculture retards growth, leading to nationwide politically-backed attempts at land-grabbing by wily city industrialists and real estate developers. In a hyperinflation-prone economy with wild deficit-spending and runaway money-printing, cheating poor unorganised peasants of their land, when that land is an asset that is due to appreciate in value, has seemed like child’s play.

What of the Opposition? The BJP/RSS have no economists who are not quacks though opportunists were happy to say what pleased them to hear when they were in power; they also have much implicit support among organised business lobbies and the anti-Muslim senior bureaucracy. The official Communists have been appeased or bought, sometimes so cheaply as with a few airline tickets here and there. The nonsensical “Rural Employment Guarantee” is descending into the wasteland of corruption it was always going to be. The “Domestic Violence Act” as expected has started to destroy India’s families the way Western families have been destroyed. The Arjun-DMK OBC quota corrodes higher education further from its already dismal state. All these were schemes that Congress and Communist cabals created or wholeheartedly backed, and which the BJP were too scared or ignorant to resist.

And then came Singur and Nandigram ~ where the sheer greed driving the alliance between the Sonia-Manmohan-Pranab Congress and the CPI-M mask that is Buddhadeb, came to be exposed by a handful of brave women like Mamata and Medha.

A Fiscal U-Turn is Needed For India to Go in The Right Economic Direction

Rajiv Gandhi had a sense of noblesse oblige out of remembrance of his father and maternal grandfather. After his assassination, the comprador business press credited Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh with having originated the 1991 economic reform. In May 2002, however, the Congress Party itself passed a resolution proposed by Digvijay Singh explicitly stating Rajiv and not either of them was to be so credited. The resolution was intended to flatter Sonia Gandhi but there was truth in it too. Rajiv, a pilot who knew no political economy, was a quick learner with intelligence to know a good idea when he saw one and enough grace to acknowledge it.

Rule of Law

The first time Dr Manmohan Singh’s name arose in contemporary post-Indira politics was on 22 March 1991 when M K Rasgotra challenged the present author to answer how Dr Singh would respond to proposals being drafted for a planned economic liberalisation that had been authorised by Rajiv, as Congress President and Opposition Leader, since September 1990. It was replied that Dr Singh’s response was unknown and he had been heading the “South-South Commission” for Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere, while what needed to be done urgently was make a clear forceful statement to restore India’s credit-worthiness and the confidence of international markets, showing that the Congress at least knew its economics and was planning to take bold new steps in the direction of progress.

There is no evidence Dr Singh or his acolytes were committed to any economic liberalism prior to 1991 as that term is understood worldwide, and scant evidence they have originated liberal economic ideas for India afterwards. Precisely because they represented the decrepit old intellectual order of statist ”Ma-Bap Sarkari” policy-making, they were not asked in the mid-1980s to be part of a “perestroika-for-India” project done at a foreign university ~ the results of which were received, thanks to Siddhartha Shankar Ray, by Rajiv Gandhi in hand at 10 Janpath on 18 September 1990 and specifically sparked the change in the direction of his economic thinking.

India is a large, populous country with hundreds of millions of materially poor citizens, a weak tax-base, a vast internal and external public debt (i.e. debt owed by the Government to domestic and foreign creditors), massive annual fiscal deficits, an inconvertible currency, and runaway printing of paper-money. It is unsurprising Pakistan’s economy is similar, since it is born of the same land and people. Certainly there have been real political problems between India and Pakistan since the chaotic demobilisation and disintegration of the old British Indian Army caused the subcontinent to plunge into war-like or “cold peace” conditions for six decades beginning with a bloody Partition and civil war in J&K. High military expenditures have been necessitated due to mutual and foreign tensions, but this cannot be a permanent state if India and Pakistan wish for genuine mass economic well-being.

Even with the continuing mutual antagonism, there is vast scope for a critical review of Indian military expenditures towards greatly improving the “teeth-to-tail” ratio of its fighting forces. The abuse of public property and privilege by senior echelons of the armed forces (some of whom have been keen most of all to export their children preferably to America) is also no great secret.

On the domestic front, Rajiv was entirely convinced when the suggestion was made to him in September 1990 that an enormous infusion of public resources was needed into the judicial system for promotion and improvement of the Rule of Law in the country, a pre-requisite almost for a new market orientation. Capitalism without the Rule of Law can quickly degenerate into an illiberal hell of cronyism and anarchy which is what has tended to happen since 1991.

The Madhava Menon Committee on criminal justice policy in July proposed a Hong Kong model of “a single high-tech integrated Criminal Justice complex in every district headquarters which may be a multi-storied structure, devoting the ground floor for the police station including a video-installed interrogation room; the first floor for the police-lockups/sub-jail and the Magistrate’s Court; the second floor for the prosecutor’s office, witness rooms, crime laboratories and legal aid services; the third floor for the Sessions Court and the fourth for the administrative offices etc…. (Government of India) should take steps to evolve such an efficient model… and not only recommend it to the States but subsidize its construction…” The question arises: Why is this being proposed for the first time in 2007 after sixty years of Independence? Why was it not something designed and implemented starting in the 1950s?

The resources put since Independence to the proper working of our judiciary from the Supreme Court and High Courts downwards have been abysmal, while the state of prisons, borstals, mental asylums and other institutions of involuntary detention is nothing short of pathetic. Only police forces, like the military, paramilitary and bureaucracies, have bloated in size.

Neither Sonia-Manmohan nor the BJP or Communists have thought promotion of the Rule of Law in India to be worth much serious thought ~ certainly less important than attending bogus international conclaves and summits to sign expensive deals for arms, aircraft, reactors etc. Yet Rajiv Gandhi, at a 10 Janpath meeting on 23 March 1991 when he received the liberalisation proposals he had authorized, explicitly avowed the importance of greater resources towards the Judiciary. Dr Singh and his acolytes were not in that loop, indeed they precisely represented the bureaucratic ancien regime intended to be changed, and hence have seemed quite uncomprehending of the roots of the intended reforms ever since 1991.

Similarly, Rajiv comprehended when it was said to him that the primary fiscal problem faced by India is the vast and uncontrolled public debt, interest payments on which suck dry all public budgets leaving no room for provision of public goods.

Government accounts


Government has been routinely “rolling over” its domestic debt in the asset-portfolios of the nationalised banks while displaying and highlighting only its new additional borrowing in a year as the “Fiscal Deficit”. More than two dozen States have been doing the same and their liabilities ultimately accrue to the Union too. The stock of public debt in India is Rs 30 trillion (Rs 30 lakh crore) at least, and portends a hyperinflation in the future.

There has been no serious recognition of this since it is political and bureaucratic actions that have been causing the problem. Proper recognition would entail systematically cleaning up the budgets and accounts of every single governmental entity in the country: the Union, every State, every district and municipality, every publicly funded entity or organisation, and at the same time improving public decision-making capacity so that once budgets and accounts recover from grave sickness over decades, functioning institutions exist for their proper future management. All this would also stop corruption in its tracks, and release resources for valuable public goods and services like the Judiciary, School Education and Basic Health. Institutions for improved political and administrative decision-making are needed throughout the country if public preferences with respect to raising and allocating common resources are to be elicited and then translated into actual delivery of public goods and services. Our dysfunctional legislatures will have to do at least a little of what they are supposed to. When public budgets and accounts are healthy and we have functioning public goods and services, macroeconomic conditions would have been created for the paper-rupee to once more become a money as good as gold ~ a convertible world currency for all of India’s people, not merely the metropolitan special interest groups that have been controlling our governments and their agendas.

Posted in Accounting and audit, asymmetric information, Banking, Big Business and Big Labour, BJP, Communists, Congress Party, Deposit multiplication, DMK, Economic Policy, Economic quackery, Economics of Public Finance, Governance, Government accounting, Government Budget Constraint, Government of India, India's Big Business, India's savings rate, India's stock and debt markets, India's 1991 Economic Reform, India's aviation, India's balance of payments, India's Banking, India's Budget, India's Capital Markets, India's communists, India's corporate governance, India's corruption, India's Democracy, India's Economic History, India's Economy, India's Energy, India's Exports, India's Families, India's Foreign Exchange Reserves, India's Foreign Trade, India's Government Budget Constraint, India's Government Expenditure, India's Industry, India's inflation, India's Judiciary, India's Land, India's Macroeconomics, India's Monetary & Fiscal Policy, India's nomenclatura, India's political lobbyists, India's Politics, India's Polity, India's pork-barrel politics, India's poverty, India's Public Finance, India's Reserve Bank, India's State Finances, India's Union-State relations, India-Pakistan peace process, India-US Nuclear Deal, Indira Gandhi, Inflation, Interest group politics, Mamata Banerjee, Manmohan Singh, Mendacity in politics, Non-Resident Indians, Pakistan, Balochistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Political corruption, Political cynicism, Political Economy, Political mendacity, Political Philosophy, Politics, Pork-barrel politics, Power-elites and nomenclatura, Public Choice/Public Finance, Public property waste fraud, Rajiv Gandhi, Reason, Redeposits, Singur and Nandigram, Sonia Gandhi, Unorganised capital markets, Welfare Economics. 2 Comments »

Land, Liberty & Value


Government must act in good faith treating all citizens equally ~ not favouring organised business lobbies and organised labour over an unorganised peasantry

First published in The Sunday Statesman Editorial Page Special Article, December 31 2006

EVERY farmer knows that two adjacent plots of land which look identical to the outsider may be very different in character, as different as two siblings of the same family. Adjacent plots may differ in access to groundwater and sunlight, in minerals and salts, in soil, fertilisers, parasites, weeds or a dozen other agronomic factors. Most of all, they will differ in the quality and ingenuity of thought and labour that has gone into their care and cultivation over the years, perhaps over generations.

John Locke said: “Whatsoever that (a man) removes out of the state that Nature hath provided and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property… For this labour being the unquestionable property of the labourer, no one but he can have a right to what that once joined to, at least where there is enough and as good left in common for others” (Second Treatise of Government). Plots of land are as specific as the families that have “mixed” their labour with them. Locke wrote of labour being something “unquestionably” the labourer’s own property; in the same libertarian vein, Robert Nozick opened Anarchy, State and Utopia saying “Individuals have rights, and there are things no person or group may do to them (without violating their rights)”.

But as we recognise the universal sanctity of the individual person and his/her private property, we have to start qualifying it. If you purchase a field, forest or estate through which runs a pathway traditionally used by the public to get from one side to the other then even as the new owner you may not have a right to forbid the public’s use of the pathway. By extension, it is clear the State, the community of which you are a citizen, may approach you and demand there should be and will be a public road or thoroughfare through your property in the common interest. Such is the sovereign’s right of “eminent domain” recognised throughout the world, not only in times of war or natural disaster but also in normal times where private property may be taken for public use. The individual’s right to free use of his/her property is circumscribed as a result.

What may be certainly expected though in all matters is that the State will act in good faith, i.e., that it has conducted proper technical surveys and cost-benefit analyses as well as transparent public hearings, and has honestly decided that the road must be constructed using this route and no other. The doctrine of eminent domain implies that while the right to private property may be basic, it is not absolute, as indeed no right is, not even the right to one’s own life. In India, one key difference between the landmark Golaknath (AIR 1967 SC 1643) and Kesavananda Bharati (AIR 1973 SC 1461) rulings had to do precisely with the former recognising the right to property being fundamental as in our original 1950 Constitution, while the latter consented to the Indira Parliament’s denial of this.

When private property is taken, fair compensation must be paid. For example, the American Constitution says “no private property may be taken for public use without just compensation”. What is just compensation? Typically it would be the “fair market value” — but that must be properly adjudged accounting for the best future use of the land, not merely the historical or traditional past use of the land.

Consider, in a mature urban real-estate market, a plot made vacant because a warehouse located on it has accidentally burned down. What is the value of the plot now? Another warehouse could be built, but other bids could come in too for construction of offices or residential flats or a multi-storey garage. The plot’s value would differ depending on which use it is ultimately put to. And this value would be ascertained by calculating the expected cash flows into the future from each of these possibilities, discounted appropriately to account for the fact the future is less valuable than the present, with the highest value alternative being chosen. That is how a mature private real-estate market works in theory, though in practice there would be zoning and environmental restrictions to account for the traditional nature of the neighbourhood as well as possible pollution by effluent waste etc.

In India, Government departments and ministries have inherited prime urban real estate from British times. Amidst the highest value real estate in Kolkata, Bangalore, Delhi etc. will be found a military camp or flats built for military personnel, having nothing whatsoever to do with furtherance of the nation’s defences today. The appalling state of government accounting and audit of our public property and institutions includes the fact that neither the Union nor State Governments and municipalities have the faintest idea of assets, including real estate, that they own. These public assets are frequently open to abuse by managerially uncontrolled government employees.

Fallacies even more curious seem to be currently at work in Indian policy-making, whether by this or that political party. The “eminent domain” doctrine requires a public purpose to exist for acquisition of private property by the State: e.g. construction of a road, bridge, dam, airport or some other traditional public good which is going to be used by the public. In India as elsewhere, “land reform” did involve taking an absentee landlord A’s land and distributing it to B, C, D and E who worked as peasants on it. But nowhere else outside formerly communist China has land been forcibly taken from peasants B, C, D and E and handed over to this or that private capitalist in name of economic development (in a reverse class war)!

Eminent domain doctrine requires good faith on part of the State with respect to its citizens and that implies treating all citizens’ interests equally – not e.g. favouring an organised business lobby or organised industrial labour over the unorganised peasantry uneducated in the wiles of city people.

Also, there is no reason why Government should be interested in a particular product-mix emerging out of a given private factory (such as the so-called inflation-unadjusted “Rs one lakh car” instead of telecom equipment or garments or textiles). Dr Manmohan Singh’s statement last week that he wishes to see “employment-intensive” industries merely added to Government confusion: from Henry Ford to Japanese “lean business” today, everyone knows the direction of change of technology in the automobile industry has been towards robotics, making modern manufacturing less and less manpower-intensive! The Tatas themselves underwent a major downsizing and restructuring in the last decade, hiving off industries not considered part of their “core competence”.

Traditional agriculture of Singur’s sort represents the most labour-intensive employment-generating kind of rural economy. While such rural life may appear unsatisfying to the urban outsider, there is, as Tolstoy, Rabindranath, Gandhi and others knew, subtle happiness, contentment and tranquility there absent in alienated industrial sprawls. “Surplus” labour occurs in agriculture because of technological improvements in quality and delivery of agricultural inputs as well as new education and awareness (Theodore W. Schultz,Transforming Traditional Agriculture). It is mostly seasonal and all hands are used during the harvest when even urban migrants flock back to help. Industry did not leave Bengal in the 1960s and 1970s because of Mamata Banerjee but because of urban unrest, the culture of gheraos and lockouts, and bad regulations of the labour and capital markets associated largely with Ms Banerjee’s Left Front adversaries.

The basic fiction the Union and State Governments have made themselves believe is that their idea of an industrialisation plan is necessary for economic development. It is not. Real economic problems in West Bengal and elsewhere are financial to do with State budgets. “Debt overhang is there” is how the RBI Governor apologetically put it last week. Interest payments on the West Bengal State public debt consume larger and larger fractions of the revenue: these payments were at Rs 13 Bn in 1995 but grew to Rs. 92 Bn by 2004, and may jump to Rs 200 Bn in the next decade. The communists have been in power thirty years and no one but they are responsible. Making the State’s budget healthy would require tackling the gargantuan bureaucracy, slashing ministerial extravagance (foreign trips, VIP security) etc. It is much easier to hobnob with the rich and powerful while tear-gassing the peasants.

On a Liberal Party for India



First published in The Sunday Statesman October 22 2006, Editorial Page Special Article

Communists, socialists and fascists exist in the Left, Congress and BJP-RSS ~ but there is a conservative/”classical liberal” party missing in Indian democracy today

We in India have sorely needed for many years a serious “classical liberal” or “conservative” political party. Major democratic countries used to have such parties which paid lip-service at least to “classical liberal” principles. But the 2003 attack on Iraq caused Bush/McCain-Republicans to merge with Hilary-Democrats, and Blair-Labour with Tory neocons, all united in a cause of collective mendacity, self-delusion and jingoism over the so-called “war on terror”. The “classical liberal” or “libertarian” elements among the Republicans and Tories find themselves isolated today, just as do pacifist communitarian elements among the Democrats and Labour. There are no obvious international models that a new Indian Liberal Party could look at ~ any models that exist would be very hard to find, perhaps in New Zealand or somewhere in Canada or North Eastern Europe like Estonia. There have been notable individual Indian Liberals though whom it may be still possible to look to for some insight: Gokhale, Sapru, Rajagopalachari and Masani among politicians, Shenoy among economists, as well as many jurists in years and decades gone by.

What domestic political principles would a “classical liberal” or conservative party believe in and want to implement in India today? First of all, the “Rule of Law” and an “Efficient Judiciary”. Secondly, “Family Values” and “Freedom of Religious Belief”. Thirdly, “Limited Government” and a “Responsible Citizenry”. Fourthly, “Sound Money” and “Free Competitive Markets”. Fifthly, “Compassion” and a “Safety Net”. Sixthly, “Education and Health for All”. Seventhly, “Science, not Superstition”. There may be many more items but this in itself would be quite a full agenda for a new Liberal Party to define for India’s electorate of more than a half billion voters, and then win enough of a Parliamentary majority to govern with at the Union-level, besides our more than two dozen States.

The practical policies entailed by these sorts of political slogans would involve first and foremost cleaning up the budgets and accounts of every single governmental entity in the country, namely, the Union, every State, every district and municipality, every publicly funded entity or organisation. Secondly, improving public decision-making capacity so that once budgets and accounts recover from having been gravely sick for decades, there are functioning institutions for their proper future management. Thirdly, resolving J&K in the most lawful and just manner as well as military problems with Pakistan in as practical and efficacious a way as possible today. This is necessary if military budgets are ever going to be drawn down to peacetime levels from levels they have been at ever since the Second World War. How to resolve J&K justly and lawfully has been described in these pages before (The Statesman, “Solving Kashmir” 1-3 December 2005, “Law, Justice and J&K”, 2-3 July 2006).

Cleaning up public budgets and accounts would pari passu stop corruption in its tracks, as well as release resources for valuable public goods and services. A beginning may be made by, for example, tripling the resources every year for three years that are allocated to the Judiciary, School Education and Basic Health, subject to tight systems of performance-audit. Institutions for improved political and administrative decision-making are necessary throughout the country if public preferences with respect to raising and allocating common resources are to be elicited and then translated into actual delivery of public goods and services.

This means inter alia that our often dysfunctional Parliament and State Legislatures have to be inspired by political statesmen (if any such may be found to be encouraged or engendered) to do at least a little of what they have been supposed to be doing. If the Legislative Branch and the Executive it elects are to lead this country, performance-audit will have to begin with them.

The result of healthy public budgets and accounts, and an economy with functioning public goods and services, would be a macroeconomic condition for the paper-rupee to once more become a money that is as good as gold, namely, a convertible world currency again after having suffered sixty years of abuse via endless deficit finance at the hands of first the British and then numerous Governments of free India that have followed.

It may be noticed the domestic aspects of such an agenda oppose almost everything the present Sonia-Manmohan Congress and Jyoti Basu “Left” stand for — whose “politically correct” thoughts and deeds have ruined India’s money and public budgets, bloated India’s Government especially the bureaucracy and the military, starved the Judiciary and damaged the Rule of Law, and gone about overturning Family Values. While there has been endless talk from them about being “pro-poor”, the actual results of their politicization of India’s economy are available to be seen with the naked eye everywhere.

One hundred years from now if our souls returned to visit the areas known today as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh etc, we may well find 500+ million inhabitants still below the same poverty-line despite all the gaseous prime ministerial or governmental rhetoric today and projections about alleged growth-rates.

If the Congress and “Left” must oppose any real “classical liberal” or conservative agenda, we may ask if the BJP-RSS could be conceivably for it. The answer is clearly not. The BJP-RSS may pontificate much about being patriotic to the motherland and about past real or imagined glories of Indian culture and religion, but that hardly ever has translated concretely into anything besides anti-Muslim or anti-Christian rhetoric, or breeding superstitions like astrology even at supposedly top technological institutes in the country. (Why all astrology is humbug, and a pre-Copernican Western import at that, is because all horoscopes assume the Sun rotates around the Earth in a geocentric solar system; the modern West’s scientific outlook arose only after astrology had declined there thanks to Copernicus and Galileo establishing the solar system as heliocentric.)

As for a “classical liberal” economic agenda, the BJP in Government transpired to be as bad if not worse than their adversaries in fiscal and monetary profligacy, except they flattered and were flattered by the organised capital of the big business lobbies whereas their adversaries flatter and are flattered by the organised power of the big labour unions (covering a tiny privileged class among India’s massive workforce). Neither has had the slightest interest in the anonymous powerless individual Indian citizen or household. The BJP in Opposition, instead of seeking to train and educate a new modern principled conservative leadership, appear to wish to regress even further back towards their very own brand of coarse fascism. “Family Values” are why Indian school-children have become the envy of the world in their keen discipline and anxiety to learn – yet even there the BJP had nothing to say on Sonia Gandhi’s pet bill on women’s property rights, whose inevitable result will be further conflict between daughters and daughters-in-law of normal Indian families.

At the root of the malaise of our political parties may be the fact we have never had any kind of grassroots “orange” revolution. There has been also an underlying national anxiety of disintegration and disorder from which the idea of a “strong Centre” follows, which has effectively meant a Delhi bloated with power and swimming in self-delusion. The BJP and Left are prisoners of their geriatric leaderships and rather unpleasant ideologies and interest-groups, while the Congress has failed to invent or adopt any ideology besides sycophancy. Let it be remembered Sonia Gandhi had been genuinely disdainful of the idea of leading that party at Rajiv’s death; today she has allowed herself to become its necessary glue. The most salubrious thing she could do for the party (and hence for India) is to do a Michael Howard: namely, preside over a genuine leadership contest between a half-dozen ambitious people, and then withdraw with her family permanently from India’s politics, focusing instead on the legacy of her late husband. Without that happening, the Congress cannot be made a healthy political entity, and hence the other parties have no role-model to imitate. Meanwhile, a liberal political party, which necessarily would be non-geriatric and non-sycophantic, is still missing in India.

Three Memoranda to Rajiv Gandhi 1990-1991







Author’s Note, April 2007: As told elsewhere here, in September 1990 I was appointed by Rajiv Gandhi to advise on the long-term agenda for the country. These advisory memoranda were first written by me in that capacity. The Economic Policy Memo was written in September-October 1990; the Foreign Policy Memo was written in February 1991 (during and after the Gulf War); the one on Secularism was a compendium of several smaller ones written in late 1990. These were confidential at the time though were based on the work of the perestroika projects on India and Pakistan that I had been leading since 1986 at the University of Hawaii.  As has been told elsewhere, I warned against Rajiv’s vulnerability to assassination.  My warnings went in vain.  When he was killed, I published these documents in The Statesman Editorial Pages of July 31, August 1, August 2 1991. The published subtitles were “Stronger Secular Middle”, “Saving India’s Prestige”, and “Salvation in Penny Capitalism” respectively. Needless to say, I do not today at age 52 agree with everything I wrote in these documents some 16 years ago at age 35-36, and my perspectives on the economy, Pakistan etc have matured further as may be seen from my current writings; but I am pleased to find I am today not  embarrassed more than very slightly by any statement I made back then.  My most recent writings relevant to the change in my thought since these documents include “What to tell Musharraf”, “Solving Kashmir”, “Law, Justice and J&K”, “India’s Macroeconomics”, “Fiscal Instability” and “India’s Trade and Payments”.


The world political order has seen immense structural changes recently. The most important of these are the result of the collapse of totalitarianism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and its replacement there by free and self-critical thought and  debate, with all the risks and responsibilities that these carry. As a result, the world economy too is on the verge of major change. There may well be by 2000 a pact led by people of European descent from Australia via the Americas and Europe to Siberia, and a smaller pact of East Asian peoples from the Sea of Japan to the Straights of Malacca. Competition between the powers in such a world will be for new markets and cheap sources of labour, energy and natural resources.  Given the fragmentation of the Islamic world and the overall weakness of Africa, it is China and our subcontinent which may be the only significant counterweights in this new balance of power. Both have long histories, resilient cultures, and vast populations, which make others apprehensive. But the future of China is far from clear to anyone. The collapse of totalitarianism seems certain after the passing of the present gerontocracy, but what will follow is anybody’s guess. At best, it may be the emergence after a power struggle of a Chinese Gorbachev who will free the domestic economy, restore political freedom, and restore Tibet’s self-governance. At worst, it may be a civil war between the remnants of the communists and some new Kuomingtang nationalists backed by Taiwan and Hong Kong. The one thing certain about China’s near term future is the oncoming uncertainty. This leaves our subcontinent, and here the key is India-Pakistan relations.

There is little doubt that the post-Partition configuration of India, Pakistan, and a divided and disputed Kashmir has been extremely detrimental to the welfare of all the people of the subcontinent, and has impoverished the general budgets and distorted the economies of both countries. If it has benefited important sections of the political and military elites of both countries, it has done so only at the expense of the general welfare of the masses. So long as the arms-race and elite-rivalry continues, the economies of both countries are likely to remain severely distorted, and there is little genuine prospect of improvements in mass welfare or the large-scale economic development of either country.

It seems hard to remember that little more than a generation or two ago, there was no problem of Kashmir on the subcontinent, or that, for the most part, the Muslims and Hindus lived in amity in undivided India. Partition came about because of the failure of the political dialogue between the Congress and Jinnah. This dialogue failed for three sets of reasons: the British role in the middle, the specific international context at the time, and the fact Congress and Jinnah were more often at cross-purposes than addressing the same issues. The proof they were largely at cross-purposes is indicated by the fact that Kashmir was never on the agenda of any serious discussion before Partition, yet ever since it has come to precisely symbolize the crisis over national identity in both India and Pakistan.
Now, in general, a country cannot have large land and naval forces at the same time. If it is assumed Pakistan and India must remain the perpetual military enemy of one another, both may have today more than adequate land and naval forces. But if that assumption is mistaken, then the real military weakness of the subcontinent taken as a whole becomes immediately apparent. This is made clear by the recent Gulf War, which is a defining event of the last half-century, and even perhaps of the whole century. If India and Pakistan are to protect themselves adequately in the modern world, they must do so by combined forces.

From a practical point of view, this cannot happen so long as each has its army trained at the other and calling it the “dushman”. On the other hand, the combination of both forces would immediately make the resulting force one of significant power, even though there would have to be further transition towards naval forces while infantries are transformed towards amphibious, airborne, reserve, and civil duties.

In the modern age, the defence of our subcontinent as a whole has to be naval and strategic, and such a defence cannot be made adequately so long as there are instead large rival armies facing one another in anger across a disputed border in Kashmir. The lesson of the Gulf War for the people of the subcontinent is that our bitter problems must be resolved, and resolved completely and permanently, in the way the bitter problems between France and Germany came to be resolved by De Gaulle and Adenauer.

Eventually, Kashmir (with or without Jammu and Ladakh) has to be united and demilitarized by both countries. But Kashmir cannot be independent any more than Punjab, Sind or Assam. Nor can a united Kashmir “go” to either India or Pakistan without further needless bloodshed. So the solution must be to try to mutually re-define the foundational basis of the sovereign states of our subcontinent after Partition. Indians and Pakistanis are free peoples who can voluntarily agree together to alter in their own interests the terms set hurriedly by Attlee or Mountbatten in the Indian Independence Act of 1947. Nobody but we ourselves keeps us prisoners of British or American definitions of who we are or might be.

For such a redefinition to take place, there has to be recognition that the configuration which occurred after Partition was a monumental mistake, which even Jinnah — the chain-smoking secular-minded Muslim nationalist — had not wanted at the time. (Jinnah’s cheerless speech to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan is, incidentally, as secular a document as any.) The solution must be to reopen the dialogue where it failed almost fifty years ago, and to work towards a major constitutional revision for a new and stable configuration to emerge in all of our subcontinent. Fifty years is, after all, not a long time in the history of our peoples. This kind of a solution is further implied by an understanding of the nature of the three nationalist forces on the subcontinent: secular nationalism as is supposed to be represented by the Congress and its offshoots; Muslim nationalism as represented today by Pakistan; and Hindu nationalism as represented today by the BJP. For the whole of the present century, these have been the three permanent political forces on the subcontinent. Congress has been the most important and central force. But the fact Congress was started mostly by Hindus was enough for a Muslim political force in the form of the Muslim League to get created on one side of it. Muslim politicization had its own reaction of an explicitly Hindu politicization in the form of the Hindu Mahasabha on the other side of Congress. It is not long ago, relative to the length of our history, that the Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha were just factions of the Congress in its struggle for independence, and many people like Jinnah had joint membership of both a communal and a secular organization.

The fact these three forces are permanent fixtures of our politics is of the highest importance. Each has changed in name, form and strength from time to time. The Muslim force went into the hands of Jinnah who, in course of bluffing his way with Congress and the British in the hope of gaining maximum advantage for his constituents, inadvertently created a moth-eaten Pakistan, which soon collapsed into military rule, foreign domination, civil war and secession. The Hindu political force became associated in the public mind with the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, was eclipsed for a short while, then re-emerged in the form of the RSS, the Jana Sangha and now the BJP. Congress has stayed more or less in the middle. But with a frequent policy of expediency instead of a clear and convincing national philosophy, during decades of extreme economic and political crisis, Congress has been experiencing continuous factionalism and splintering into various disunited and opportunistic groups.

Nevertheless, a permanent configuration of political forces on the subcontinent can be identified of a secular middle, with Hindu and Muslim communal interests on either side of it. Each force is of such a size and importance that it must be respected and cannot be ignored. None of the three can be destroyed or converted by any one or combination of the other two. Congress and the BJP cannot destroy Muslim communalism as represented today by Pakistan. Congress and the Muslims cannot destroy Hindu communalism as represented today by the BJP. And the BJP and Pakistan will destroy one another and the whole of our subcontinent with them before they destroy secularism. Much as they might like to, neither can the RSS impose universal Hindu domination nor can the Pakistani ulema impose Islamic law over all parts of the subcontinent. Nor, for that matter, can Congress and its offshoots expect to spread secularism everywhere on the subcontinent.

These are the fundamental facts of political life on the subcontinent. They have not changed for 100 years, and, come what may, they are not likely to change for the next 50 years. If the forces are not recognised correctly and accomodated and reconciled properly, all that will happen is that the real and emotional resources of all sides will be drained against each other, until such a time as there is perhaps a break-up of the subcontinent and a repeat of the 18th century, with elites panicking and fleeing abroad if they can, mass blood-letting, while foreigners roam the country competitively in search of aluminium, manganese, coal, iron ore, oil, women, cheap labour, quick profits or whatever. Both the national movement for Independence from European rule and Jinnah’s desire to preserve the cultural identity of Indian Muslims will have become ghastly long-term failures. So long as the conflict between the Hindus and Muslims of the subcontinent continues, with secular forces caught in the middle, it is certain that the people of our subcontinent will not experience genuine mass economic improvement or be able to take their proper position in the world. Instead, we shall be completely vulnerable and defenceless with respect to predaory foreign powers in the post-Cold War world.

A genuine reconciliation between Pakistan and Hindu communalism is possible only via the revitalised leadership of a secular centre, with a clear-headed understanding of the facts and the way forward. It will require courage and calm statesmanship of a high order, of the kind shown by Willy Brandt, Sadat and Gorbachev in recent years. (Postscript: Rajiv Gandhi may have been able to show such statesmanship in his second term.)

II. FOREIGN POLICY (“Saving India’s Prestige”)
A key principle by which to guide the foreign policy of a large and potentially great nation like ours can be stated simply as follows:

An action of the Government of India outside the territory of India, i.e., an act of foreign policy, should be undertaken if and only if it protects or promotes Indian interests outside the territory of India.

Indian interests outside India encompass the private interests of Indian businessmen, Indian migrant workers and their descendants, Indian pilgrims, Indian students, Indian tourists etc, as well as the public interests of the Indian Republic such as the defence of the territory and property of India and the promotion overseas of the culture, languages and values of India.

It is a fact that Indian prestige on the world-stage has declined steadily since Independence. India’s share of world trade and finance used to be large in the 1750s, considerable in the 1850s, small but significant in the 1950s. It is close to insignificant today as we approach 2000. Accurately or not, we are perceived by those who think about us at all as a complex mess of a society, rife with caste, class and religious conflicts; moralistic and hypocritical beggars and braggarts on the world stage; very weak relative to our potential and our pretensions; with all talk and little ability. True or false, whether we like it or not, that is how we are perceived by many people outside India.

Repercussions of this view that the world has of us today are felt everywhere. A cynical Pakistani foreign minister once said about Non-Alignment: “Zero plus zero equals zero”. He was wrong then but would be right today. In public international circles, the Government of India is mostly ignored, and not even humoured or flattered the way some are because of their oil. Many Indians outside India face harrassment, hostility and discrimination of various degrees. This is related not only to the fact they are often competent and successful relative to local populations, but also to the perception that India is a weak and flabby country unable to protect her citizens abroad or offer them a proper life at home. If we are to formulate a new and effective foreign policy for India, we have to be first candid and realistic in our assessment of the facts and circumstances of the world situation and our present place in it.

Ideally, the foreign policy and defence of the subcontinent should be common. Differences between private Indians, Pakistanis, etc tend to disappear outside the subcontinent in face of common opportunities and adversities. If we are not able to persuade our neighbours about this in the short run, we may nevertheless act as far as possible as if we have a common policy, hoping to thereby persuade our neighbours by our example of the gains from such a policy. With this in mind, the broad aims of a new foreign policy may be formulated as follows:

A. Independence from so-called “foreign aid”. We do not ask for or accept public foreign aid from foreign Governments or international organizations at “concessional” terms. Requiring annual foreign aid is an indication of economic maladjustment, having to do with the structure of imports and exports and the international price of the Indian rupee. Receiving the so-called aid of others, e.g. the so-called Aid-India Consortium or the soft-loans of the World Bank, diminishes us drastically in the eyes of the donors, who naturally push their own agendas and gain leverage in the country in various ways in return. Self-reliance from so-called foreign aid would require making certain economic adjustments in commercial and exchange-rate policies, as well as austerity in foreign-exchange spending by the Government. Emergency aid from abroad (e.g. for disaster relief) or private voluntary aid need not be affected.

B. Promotion of amity and demilitarisation on the subcontinent. The idea would be to aim towards a more or less common foreign and military policy on the pattern of Western Europe within five or ten years. This will require some outstanding statesmanship and domestic political courage vis-a-vis Pakistan on the lines suggested in the previous memorandum.

C. Resolving the border-dispute with China by treaty. This too will require some clear-thinking statesmanship. The general trade-off between sectors may be a commonsensical way of breaking the impasse. Prima facie at least, Arunachal which we already have is probably more valuable to us than Aksai Chin which they already have, unless there are defence reasons to the contrary. A sound settlement should allow us to take a firm if quiet stand with them on Tibet. What they do at Tiannanmen may be not be our affair but what they do in Tibet is. Our position on Tibet has not been an altogether honourable one in the last 40 years.  Also we should seek to protect those of Indian descent in Hong Kong from the chaos that is likely to occur in 1997.

D. Promotion of emigration and reverse migration to and from e.g. North America, Hong Kong, Africa etc. On the one hand, we should export our most exportable product, which is inexpensive good quality labour skills. At the same time, any Indian or descendant of an Indian living abroad should be encouraged to return at will. This is important for economic reasons, in effect adding value to the stock of human capital in the country. It is even more important for political reasons, as it will undercut to some extent the overseas financing of domestic terrorism. Nationality laws have to be amended giving Indian nationality to as many people as possible of Indian descent. Every Indian abroad who has taken a foreign passport but wishes to retain or re-acquire Indian nationality at the same time should be encouraged by us to do so. This may go to isolate extremist opinion, as thousands of moderate emigrants in Britain and North America will presumably prefer to maintain or freely re-acquire Indian nationality alongside their new nationalities. Many may rediscover patriotism for their homeland, where they now feel rootless in alien cultures which is what subconsciously motivates the demand for an abstract separatism.

E. Promotion of commerce, finance and investment abroad — exports, imports, capital flows in and out, tourism, contacts and exchanges. This is of fundamental importance for economic reasons. It will entail establishing as quickly as possible conditions favourable for the freeing of the rupee, as will be described in the next memorandum.

F. Achievement of tolerable standards in sports, music, and the arts. Our sporting prowess has become laughable. This contributes to our dismal image in the outside world. The present system is utterly hopeless, because of the heavy and completely unnecessary Government involvement in sports. Sports can be and must be privatized as completely as possible. Let commercial advertising and private sponsorship help our athletic development with minimum Government involvement. For example, Government can give tax breaks to sponsors who finance athletes for competitive international sport. There is plenty of black money in the economy which can be induced to come out to support sports in the country. To a lesser extent, the state of music and the arts and the culture in general have also become hopeless due to the unnecessary Government involvement.

For these six new objectives of an effective Indian foreign policy to be achieved, there must be a clear-headed and consistently formulated long-term view. The basic means would be to make a major and distinct move away from multilateralism towards bilateralism in international affairs. This would begin with Pakistan, on the lines discussed in the previous memorandum. Our most active foreign policy must be on the subcontinent, followed by South East Asia to where we once exported Buddhism, Islam, Sanskrit and Hinduism. South East Asia is today thriving economically and is quite stable politically. We have to learn what we can from them and offer whatever we have in exchange. Then there are the major powers: the United States, the Soviet Union, Germany, Japan, Britain and France. Then there is the Islamic crescent from Morocco to Indonesia. Then there are the countries where Indians have gone or can still go as emigrants or where there are significant Indian interests. These include Australia, Canada, South Africa, East Africa, Fiji and the West Indies. Then there are continental powers like Brazil, Argentina, Egypt and Nigeria. Then there are regional groups like the European Community and Scandinavia as collectivities.

On the subcontinent, the relationship should be made domestic and familiar with the aim of identifying common interests and forging a common policy as soon as possible. With the others, a rational bilateralism would involve starting with a thorough assessment of bilateral relations country-by-country. What are the principal components of imports and exports and their rates of expansion or contraction? What are Indian assets and liabilities in each of these countries and how liquid are these? How significant are private Indian interests in each — immigrants, tourists, students, businesses, etc.? What is the scope for expansion of ties in view of our objectives? Etc. Long-term foreign policy requires a constant stock of reliable information and also a continuous flow into and out of that stock. This may require overhauling some of the civil services. For good foreign policy to be made and implemented, there should be easy flow between the IFS and IAS, academia and the military and intelligence services. The aim would be to have a pool of highly qualified people voluntarily pursuing foreign languages and research of national importance with respect to the different countries of the world. The dozens of unthinking think-tanks in Delhi may have to be drastically overhauled to actually produce something useful after all.

Having determined what are the priorities and what are not, a reallocation of the foreign exchange resources of the Government of India will be called for to achieve stated foreign policy objectives. This has to accompany the process of economic reform, as well as the vigourous pursuit of reasonable solutions to the subcontinent’s continuing political problems. Obtaining a broad national consensus on the objectives is very important. Once the thinking has been clarified and the pieces put in place, this may not be so hard to achieve.

III. ECONOMIC POLICY (“Salvation in Penny Capitalism”)
Our economic problems have to do with the misdefinition which has occurred since Independence of the role of government in the economy. Partly under the influence of numerous domestic and foreign economists and pseudo-economists, our Government since the 1950s has frequently done things which need not or should not be done by government at the expense of things which have to be done or can only be done by government. The prime indicator of economic mismanagement today is not the annual deficit, but rather the vast public debt today of more than Rs. 273,000 crores. Our Government has borrowed something like Rs. 3500/- on behalf of each man, woman and child in the country — and spent it. A pile of rupee coins adding up to the public debt of India would stretch 4.55 million km into the sky, or be as long as six trips to the moon and back. That is the size of the problem.
Commonsense says that for the individual family or business or the nation as a whole, if you borrow funds for productive purposes which repay their worth, the size of the debt incurred is immaterial. If you borrow on the credit of the Government of India and then add to the country’s capital stock (whether human capital via better health and education or physical capital like roads and bridges), then the size of the debt does not matter, as long as the payments of interest on the debt are matched by increases in the capital stock. But if Government spends borrowed funds recklessly without a thought to rates of return, no capital gets created and instead the economy approaches technical bankruptcy at which time foreign creditors come knocking at the door.

The roots of the crisis may be traced to the following:

(A) Politicians in democratic systems make competitive soft promises of cash and immediate benefits, without thinking of where the revenue is going to come from. It is recognition of this which this has led to the turnaround in the Western economies since 1979, and made politics there much more sober from an economic point of view.
(B) Our closed economy with a captive Reserve Bank and credit market has caused any amount of the currency to be debased internally. To correct the problem at the roots, these two factors have to be faced squarely.

Short Run Policy (0-6 months) All political parties, national or regional, whether they have been in power or not, are mutually responsible for the crisis. It has been one of the unintended side-effects of the democratic system we have chosen. Therefore, all parties have a responsibility to set things right, and the way to do so was thoughtfully placed in the Constitution by its framers in Article 360: in a situation in which the “financial stability or credit” of India is threatened, the President is entitled to declare a financial emergency. This would permit freezing all levels and increases in Government spending outside essential functions (defence, law and order, roads, transport and comunications, basic education and health), initiate cost-cutting in all non-essential parts of the Government, and create the appropriate mood of seriousness in the country.
Next there will have to be an increase in revenue without increasing taxes. Can this be done? (Bush had once called this Reagan/Thatcher idea “voodoo economics”.) In our economy it may be possible via the appropriate use of two facts — the vast black economy of undeclared income of perhaps Rs. 43,000 crores, and the vast Government-owned industrial and services sector plus any amount of Government-owned land and capital. The black economy has made our businessmen waste their enterprise in trying to cheat or buy out the Government. The Government-owned sector has led our workers to waste their skills and learning abilities in overmanned and unproductive occupations. Any reform-minded Government must be prepared to tackle corrupt or lazy businessmen, union bosses and Government employees, while creating a system which rewards initiative, honesty, enterprise and effort on the part of business, labour and the bureaucracy.
As part of the financial emergency, every Government department can be instructed to reduce costs by 10-25% every year for the next five years. Much of this may be possible without layoffs but by internal economies and tough administration — freezing wages and benefits, saving office-space, more clatter and less chatter, etc.

More crucially, there must be an absolute moratorium on strikes in the public sector. Only if an industry is vital to the national interest should it be in the public sector, e.g. space research, defence production or oil. Strikes in such industries damage the whole country and not just the individual employer. Therefore, either there are no strikes, or the industry is not vital to the nation and can be safely placed in the private sector.

This will set the example for more fundamental changes in industrial relations. Labour laws have to be applied or amended to ensure unions are run for the benefit of their members and not of union bosses or political parties. Unions are vital in industrial society to protect individual workers from exploitation, discrimimation and safety hazards. They are not supposed to be empires for unelected union bosses, arenas for party politics, or excuses for overmanning. Our productivity is shockingly low relative to international standards, and without crucial improvements in it we shall be wiped out if and when the economy is opened as it will have to be for other reasons.

Increasing productivity per head throughout the economy is therefore a vital preparatory step, and must be tackled in the first few months. The device of a strike has to be made a last resort. Workers have to be free to elect their leaders by secret ballot without fear or intimidation. Political parties have to be removed from the workplace. The power of toughs and vandals has to be broken by the ballot box.

At the same time, employment can be made to increase by leaps and bounds by freeing all domestic enterprise from licensing, controls and permits. Freeing domestic enterprise from retrograde Central and State laws may be again most easily done via the Constitution. Subject only to local laws of safety, morality and environmental protection, all trade, commerce and enterprise throughout the territory of India should be made free from Government interference or restriction. That was what was envisioned by Articles 19 and 301 of the Constitution.

The increase may be incalculable in employment, wages and income, and hence the consumption of the masses of our people. Important side-benefits will be that urban discontent, political vandalism and communalism will be reduced. An idle mind is the devil’s workshop — with increased employment via enterprise, there will be less time and inclination for political or communal crimes.

Special notice has to be given to banking policy, as banks affect all other enterprises. Our nationalised banks are in disastrous shape. Private banks are responsible to their share-holders; if bad loans are made or bad risks taken, or if costs are too high or service poor, then managements get replaced by the power of share-holders. In public sector banks this does not happen. Costs are very high, profit rates low or negative, loans are not repaid or should not have been made in the first place, and service is appalling. Small depositors place their confidence in them because they have no other place to put their meagre savings, and because they believe the Government knows best and is not itself bankrupt. If a serious opening of the economy is to be planned in the medium and long-term, there has to be adequate preparation of the monetary system, else there may be a run on the banks and a collapse in public confidence in the currency.

It becomes essential that costs in the public sector banks are slashed, loans get repaid, loan melas stop, and banks are run as banks and not as public charities or employment agencies. At the same time, the Reserve Bank has to be made independent of the Ministry of Finance and of parliamentary pressure, and preferably made constitutionally independent like the UPSC or the Auditor-General. The task of any central bank is to maintain a currency in which the domestic public can have confidence in making their economic transactions, and to reflect a realistic price on international currency markets. The Reserve Bank’s role has been severely distorted by it being forced practically at gunpoint to hold massive amounts of the Government’s debt, and to finance this by printing more and more paper money. Instead, the currency has to reflect real economic transactions, and the Reserve Bank can be instructed (as its own 1985 report said) to follow a non-inflationary monetary rule of expanding the money-supply only relative to the rate of growth of real income and output in the economy.
Similarly, markets for insurance and life-insurance have to be rescued from the bankruptcy of nationalisation. Insurance is a highly complicated industry involving the correct assessment and sharing of business and personal risks. The present industry is in a shambles and will probably have to learn the modern business almost from scratch. Yet reforming it is vital to a new and invigorated economy, and also to laying the basis for heath-insurance for the masses.

Medium-Run Policy (6-18 months) Next, a concerted effort will have to be made to raise revenue without raising taxes. To the contrary, tax rates have to be simplified and reduced if possible, and especially the system of invisible indirect excise taxes (which tend to hurt the poor most heavily) gradually changed as far as possible to visible direct income and wealth taxes. If revenues are to be raised without increasing taxes, it is black money and the public sector which must be made to come to the rescue of the country. The public sector belongs to the public — not to the IAS, not to the public sector unions and certainly not to local politicians.  Ideally, the most efficient and equitable means of share-holding of the public sector would be for every Indian adult to receive at the address of his or her domicile (or voter registration), upon a simple application and a processing fee, oe share-certificate in each enterprise being run by the Government of India. (An even better model would be to have a poverty-citerion, and give the shares to the poorest of the poor villages or village panchayats.) The shares would become tradeable; markets of penny-capitalism would spread throughout the villages of India, as each penny-capitalist decided whether to hold or sell the share-certificates thus received, and the Government would have safely handed over the ownership of the public sector to its rightful owners.

It would be a historic move for the distribution of national wealth, as scores perhaps hundreds of millions of new shareholders are created. The hidden hoards of black money would come out and become distributed equitably. Of course the shares of some public sector enterprises will not be worth much, but they will not be worth less than nothing. Nor would anyone be obliged to sell until it was privately profitable to do so. Future entrepreneurs (domestic or foreign) who wished to take over or turn around the fortunes of a bankrupt public sector firm would have to solicit the shares from a vast population of penny-capitalists.

Long-Run Policy (18+ months) Thus the key objective would be to control wasteful Government spending in order to place the Government in a position to redirect public resources towards the fundamental sources of economic growth for the common people of India. One further step would be necessary. This would be to make the rupee a hard currency of the world.
This will have to be done with utmost care and proper preparation of economic and political expectations. It will mean making every Indian — high or lowly, rich or poor — free to hold his or her assets, small as these may be, in any currency or precious metal of choice without Government intervention. Government would use its own reserves of foreign exchange and gold for its own purchases and obligations abroad — e.g. defence, diplomacy, or emergency reserves.  Success or failure will depend squarely on the credibility and resolve of the Government that there will be no U-turn. If the Government is steadfast and is believed, the rupee will fall some distance for some months and then turn upwards and rise some lesser distance, at which point it would have become a hard currency. The initial fall will bring out black money and pent-up demand, and may reduce the present (October 26 1990) artificial price of Rs. 20 to the dollar to even Rs. 40 or Rs 50 to the dollar. The import bill will become enormous, and immediate relief will have to be given by cutting back on import duties and excise taxes on petroleum equivalently, leading to a fall in revenue from these sources. Export incentives should be immediately withdrawn, as Indian exporters will face an unprecedented boom as the dollar prices of their goods tumble, and goods which were previously high-cost and unexportable become very exportable. The export boom may be so huge as to be inflationary in the short term, requiring the same steady monetary policy plus corrective action by release of food and other stocks. The critical burden will fall on expansion of supply and production — it is here that the importance of first establishing domestic free enterprise and cooperative industrial relations is seen, as domestic enterprise must be in a position to respond to an export boom when the rupee becomes a hard currency. The rupee would become a hard currency the moment its initial fall comes to an end and it starts upwards at a new and steady equilibrium value. At this value, our credit-worthiness in the world would be firm, our export-led boom would have begun, capital owned by Indians abroad would have begun to flow freely in, and the Government would be in a position to embark on fundamental changes for long term economic growth and welfare of the masses — specifically, village-based economic development and school-based village development. Most important, as people gain more control over their own individual futures, the mood and momentum should make the position one of strong confidence.