Why are the government and media spreading panic in India about swine-flu? There is almost none of it.
The population of India as of August 2009 is near 1,163,698,689.
Something between 19,782,878 and 115,206,170 people among this population may be suffering some kind of ailment or other at any given time (don’t forget headaches, runny noses, upset tummies, sore backs etc). The lesser figure comes by taking the minimum rate of morbidity across regions, 17/1000, the greater figure comes by taking a supposed national average morbidity rate of 99/1000. I shall be happy to yield to more accurate figures from any source.
Of these millions, some 1,200 (twelve hundred) are said to have been isolated due to and are being treated for swine-flu as of today. That is, statistically speaking, zero.
As for deaths, India experiences something between 20,405 and 26,398 deaths per day from all causes, depending on whether you use 6.40/1000 or 8.28/1000 as the mortality rate.
The number of deaths in India attributed to swine-flu since August 3 is twenty — or about 2 per day on average. That again is, statistically speaking, zero.
Of course governments at Union and State levels and the public health authorities and medical authorities need to follow their protocols and procedures – for swine-flu and every other disease that afflicts us. But, please, closing down cities and towns or holding so many ministerial meetings due to a purported swine-flu epidemic in the country is quite simply a nonsensical waste of resources. Time for a little rationality please.
Yesterday the PM is reported to have been asked by someone travelling on his aeroplane from Moscow “whether he had forgiven Advani for calling him a ‘weak Prime Minister’”.
The question was absurd, almost ridiculous, typical of our docile ingratiating rather juvenile English-language press and media, as if any issue of forgiveness arises at all about what one politician says during an election campaign about another politician’s performance in office.
Dr Manmohan Singh’s answer was surprising too: “I was compelled to reply to what Advani said…On May 16 when (Advani) telephoned me, he told me that he was hurt by some of my statements. He said he was hurt and regretted his statements… I apologised to him if I have hurt him. I am looking forward to a close relationship with the Leader of the Opposition.”
So LK Advani appears to have apologised to Manmohan Singh and Manmohan Singh to LK Advani for what they said about each other during the recent general election campaign! What is going on? Were they schoolboys exchanging fisticuffs in a school playground or elderly men battling over power and policy in modern Indian politics?
What would we have done if there was a Churchill in Indian politics today – hurling sarcastic insults at domestic opponents and foreign leaders while guiding a nation on its right course during turbulent times?
Churchill once famously said his parents had not shown him “The Boneless Wonder” in PT Barnum’s circus because it was too horrible a sight but now he had finally seen such a “Boneless Wonder” in his opponent on the Treasury Benches, namely, Ramsay MacDonald. Of the same opponent he said later “He has the gift of compressing the largest number of words into the smallest amount of thought”.
When accused of being drunk by a woman MP he replied “And you are very ugly, but tomorrow I’ll be sober”. Today’s politically correct world would scream at far less. Field Marshall Montgomery told Churchill, “I neither drink nor smoke and am 100% fit,” to which Churchill replied, “I drink and smoke and I am 200% fit”. That too would be politically incorrect today.
Churchill described Prime Minister Clement Attlee as “a modest man with much to be modest about”; also about Attlee: “If any grub is fed on Royal Jelly it turns into a Queen Bee”. Yet Attlee had enough dignity and self-knowledge and self-confidence to brush it all off and instead respect and praise him. In the 1954 volume Winston Spencer Churchill Servant of Crown and Commonwealth Attlee added his own tribute to his great opponent: “I recall…the period when he was at odds with his own party and took a seat on the Bench below the Gangway on the Government side. Here he was well placed to fire on both parties. I remember describing him as a heavily armed tank cruising in No Man’s Land. Very impressive were the speeches he delivered as the international horizon grew darker. He became very unpopular with the predominant group in his own party, but he never minded fighting a lone battle.”
Stanley Baldwin, who as PM first appointed Churchill as Chancellor of the Exchequer, once said “There comes Winston with his hundred horsepower mind”. Yet Churchill was to later say harshly “I wish Stanley Baldwin no ill, but it would have been much better had he never lived.”
Of Lenin, Churchill said, he was “transported in a sealed truck like a plague bacillus from Switzerland into Russia”. Of Molotov: “I have never seen a human being who more perfectly represented the modern concept of a robot.” Of Hitler, “If [he] invaded hell I would at least make a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons”. Of De Gaulle, “He was a man without a country yet he acted as if he was head of state”.” Of John Foster Dulles, “[He] is the only bull who carries his china shop with him”. Of Stafford Cripps, British Ambassador to the USSR, “…a lunatic in a country of lunatics”; and also “There but for the Grace of God, goes God”.
Decades later, that great neo-Churchillian Margaret Thatcher was on the receiving end of a vast amount of sarcasm. “President Mitterrand once famously remarked that Thatcher had ‘the eyes of Caligula and the lips of Marilyn Monroe’. Rather less flatteringly, Dennis Healey described her as Attila the Hen. She probably took both descriptions as compliments.” (Malcolm Rifkind in Margaret Thatcher’s Revolution: How it Happened and What it Meant edited by Subroto Roy and John Clarke, 2005).
Politics is, and should be, grown up stuff because it deals with human lives and national destinies, and really, if you can’t take the heat please do not enter the kitchen. The slight Churchillian sarcasm that does arise within modern Indian politics comes very occasionally from Bihar but nowhere else, e.g. about the inevitability of aloo in samosas and of bhaloos in the jungle but no longer of Laloo being in the seat of power. In general, everyone seems frightfully sombre and self-important though may be in fact short of self-knowledge and hence self-confidence.
What had Manmohan Singh said about LK Advani that he felt he had to apologise for? That Advani had no substantial political achievement to his credit and did not deserve to be India’s PM. Manmohan was not alone in making the charge – Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and numerous other spokesmen and representatives of their party said the same. Has Manmohan’s apology to Advani been one on behalf of the whole Congress Party itself?
Was Advani’s apology to Manmohan one on behalf of the whole BJP too?
What had the BJP charged Manmohan with that Advani felt he had to apologise for? Being a “weak PM”.
Hmmm. Frankly, thinking about it, it is hard to count who has not been weak as a PM in India’s modern history.
Certainly Vallabhai Patel as a kind of co-PM was decisive and far from weak back in 1947-48.
Lal Bahadur Shastri was not weak when he told Pakistan that a Pakistani attack on Kashmir would result in an Indian attack on Pakistan.
Indira Gandhi was not weak when she resisted the Yahya Khan-Tikka Khan tyranny against Bangladesh.
Had he not been assassinated, Rajiv Gandhi in a second term would have been decisive and not weak in facing up to and tackling the powerful lobbies and special interest groups that have crippled our domestic economic policy for decades.
But the number of such examples may be counted by hand. Perhaps VP Singh might count, riding in an open jeep to Amritsar, as might AB Vajpayee’s Pokhran II and travelling on a bus to Lahore. In general, the BJP’s charge that Manmohan was “weak” may have constructively led to serious discussion in the country about the whole nature of the Prime Ministership in modern India, which means raising a whole gamut of issues about Indian governance – about India being the softest of “soft states”, with the softest of “soft government budget constraints” (i.e., endless deficit finance and paper money creation) etc.
Instead, what we have had thus far is apologies being exchanged for no real political reason between the leaderships of the Government and the Opposition. If two or three sellers come to implicitly carve up a market between themselves they are said by economic theory to be colluding rather than being in competition. Indian politics may be revealing such implicit collusive behaviour. The goal of this political oligopoly would seem to be to preserve and promote the status quo of the post-1947 Dilli Raj with its special hereditary nomenclatura, at the expense of anonymous diffused teeming India.
Postscript July 15 2009: Churchill’s mature opinion of Baldwin was one of the fullest praise at the 20 May 1950 unveiling of a memorial to him. See his In the Balance, edited by Randolph S Churchill, 1951, p. 281
Close to 389 million valid votes were cast in India’s previous General Election in 2004 to the 14th Lok Sabha, according to the Election Commission’s volume STATISTICAL REPORT ON GENERAL ELECTIONS, 2004 TO THE 14th LOK SABHA VOLUME III (DETAILS FOR ASSEMBLY SEGMENTS OF PARLIAMENTARY CONSTITUENCIES).
Unfortunately, the Election Commission, like the Government of India in general, remains extremely uncomfortable with using Excel or any spreadsheets at all, and hence much of the information they provide remains unproductive — reflecting, I am afraid, rather obsolescent technology and organisation and management. From an Excel spreadsheet I have had to create for myself using EC data, my calculations give the following breakdown of the votes received in 2004 by most of the larger political parties:
2004 Lok Sabha Elections
ADMK AllIndiaAnnaDravidaMunnetraKazhagam 8,547,014
AGP AsomGanaParishad 2,069,600
AIFB AllIndiaForwardBloc 1,365,055
AITC AllIndiaTrinamoolCongress 7,863,220
BJD BijuJanataDal 5,082,849
BJP BharatiyaJanataParty 86,181,116
BSP BahujanSamajParty 21,037,968
CPI CommunistPartyofIndia 5,484,111
CPI(ML)(L) CommunistPartyofIndia(Marxist-Leninist)(Liberation) 1,280,240
CPM CommunistPartyofIndia(Marxist) 22,065,283
DMK DravidaMunnetraKazhagam 7,064,393
INC IndianNationalCongress 103,118,475
IND Independents 16,523,857
INLD IndianNationalLokDal 1,918,943
JD(S) JanataDal(Secular) 5,732,296
JD(U) JanataDal(United) 9,129,366
JMM JharkhandMuktiMorcha 1,846,843
MDMK MarumalarchiDravidaMunnetraKazhagam 1,679,870
PMK PattaliMakkalKatchi 2,169,020
NCP NationalistCongressParty 7,019,236
RJD RashtriyaJanataDal 9,384,147
RLD RashtriyaLokDal 2,463,603
RSP RevolutionarySocialistParty 1,689,794
SAD ShiromaniAkaliDal 3,506,681
SHS ShivSena 7,050,432
SP SamajwadiParty 16,822,902
TDP TeluguDesam 11,844,811
TRS TelanganaRashtraSamithi 2,441,405
That accounts for 372,382,530. The precise total of valid votes that I get by tabulating EC data using my spreadsheet is 388,920,557. The EC itself reports in the very same document a total of 388,672,504. The percentage difference is close enough to zero but it should be zero itself; I shall be delighted if my spreadsheet’s total is the incorrect one somehow, even though it uses the EC’s own data; but it does lead me to ask: “Who, if anyone, audits the Election Commission’s numerical calculations and vote tallies? Why is India’s ordinary public not informed about all this and other processes of the Election Commission perfectly transparently as a matter of routine? Is reform necessary of the processes and procedures of the Election Commission itself?”.
(Incidentally, the slight discrepancy in the totals could have arisen perhaps because my spreadsheet does, correctly, include the relatively small number of postal ballots, whereas the EC’s total possibly has not done.)
Raw votes like those described above do not of course translate directly into seats in Parliament but even so they indicate the state of popular political opinion in 2004. By how much will that popular opinion be found to have changed in 2009? How will demographic changes, and the delimitation exercise that has redrawn constituencies, affect the new outcomes? These are the kind of grown-up adult questions to ask yourself if you get bored with the endless pretentious waffle that emerges from our talking-heads on TV etc regarding the ongoing election.
Notice too the 16.5 million people of India who voted in 2004 for Independents! What on earth has made Dr Manmohan Singh recently initiate an absurd debate against them?
Here below as well is the full list of all parties that were in contention in 2004; if you want to know the vote-share any of them received according to my spreadsheet, send in a comment to this post and I shall try to respond. Better still, look up the EC volume mentioned and create your own spreadsheet from its data, and tell me how accurate mine is. (But beware, the spreadsheet will have some 60,000 rows to start with!)
Subroto Roy, Kolkata
List of parties in 2004
The 2009 General Election campaign is supposed to elect a Parliament and a Head of Government for the Republic of India, not a Head Boy/Head Girl at an urban middle-class high school or the karta of a joint family. Unfortunately, our comprador national-level media seem to be docile and juvenile enough in face of power and privilege to want to ask only touchy-feely koochi-woochi pretty baby questions of the “candidates” for PM (several of whom are not even running as candidates for the Lok Sabha but still seem to want to be PM). Rival candidates themselves seem to want to hurl invective and innuendo at one another, as if all this was merely some public squabble between Delhi middle-class families.
So here are a set of grown-up adult questions instead:
1. Pakistan is politically and strategically our most important neighbour. Can you assure the country that a government headed by you will have a coherent policy on both war and peace with Pakistan? How would you achieve it?
2. Do you agree with the Reagan-Gorbachev opinion that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought”? If so, what would your Government do about it?
3. If there are Indian citizens in Jammu & Kashmir presently governed by Article 370 who wish to renounce Indian nationality and remain stateless or become Pakistani/Afghan/Iranian citizens instead, would you consider letting them do so and giving them Indian “green cards” for peaceful permanent residence in J&K and India as a whole?
4. Do you know where Chumbi Valley is? If so, would your Government consider reviving the decades-old idea with China to mutually exchange permanent leases to Aksai Chin and Chumbi Valley respectively?
5. Nuclear power presently accounts as a source of about 4% of total Indian electricity; do you agree that even if nuclear power capacity alone increased by 100% over the next ten years and all other sources of electricity remained constant, nuclear power would still account for less than 8% of the total?
6. The public debt of the country may now amount to something like Rs 30 lakh crore (Rs 30 trillion); do you find that worrisome? If so, why so? If not, why not?
7. The Government of India may be paying something like Rs 3 lakh crore (Rs 3 trillion) annually on interest payments on its debt; do you agree that tends to suck dry every public budget even before it can try to do something worthwhile?
8. If our money supply growth is near 22% per annum, and the rate of growth of real income is near 7% per annum, would you agree the decline in the value of money (i.e., the rate of inflation) could be as high as 15% per annum?
9. Do you agree that giving poor people direct income subsidies is a far better way to help them than by distorting market prices for everybody? If not, why not?
10. How would you seek to improve the working of (and reduce the corruption in) the following public institutions: (1) the Army and paramilitary; (2) the Judiciary and Police; (3) Universities and technical institutes?
11. There has never been a Prime Minister in any parliamentary democracy in the world throughout the 20th Century who was also not an elected member of the Lower House; do you agree BR Ambedkar and Jawaharlal Nehru intended that for the Republic of India as well and thought it something so obvious as not necessary to specify in the 1950 Constitution? What will your Government do to improve the working of the Presidency, the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha and State Assemblies?
12. What, personally, is your vision for India after a five-year period of a Government led by you?
Citizen & Voter
Two years ago, I said in “Political Paralysis”,
“[I]f Atal Behari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani could bring themselves to honestly walk away from BJP politics, there would have to be a genuine leadership contest and some new principles emerging in their party. There is an excellent and very simple political reason for Vajpayee and Advani to go, which is not that they are too old (which they are) but that they led their party to electoral defeat. Had they walked away in May 2004, there might have been by now some viable conservative political philosophy in India and some recognisable new alternative leadership for 2009. Instead there is none and the BJP has not only failed very badly at being a responsible Opposition, it will go into the 2009 General Election looking exceptionally decrepit and incompetent.”
Lest anyone think this was a tirade against the BJP, most of the article was actually a criticism of the Congress and the Communists!
Mr LK Advani’s claim that Indian resources have been illegally shipped overseas is hardly new or interesting — what is truly grotesque is the sheer irresponsibility of his claim that if somehow this could be reversed, it would suffice to
” Relieve the debts of all farmers and landless • Build world-class roads all over the country – from national and state highways to district and rural roads; • Completely eliminate the acute power shortage in the country and also to bring electricity to every unlit rural home; • Provide safe and adequate drinking water in all villages and towns in India • Construct good-quality houses, each worth Rs. 2.5 lakh, for 10 crore families; • Provide Rs. 4 crore to each of the nearly 6 lakh villages; the money can be used to build, in every single village, a school with internet-enabled education, a primary health centre with telemedicine facility, a veterinary clinic, a playground with gymnasium, and much more. “
This is simply appalling in its sheer mendacity. The BJP is going to give an amnesty to all those with such money and then confiscate it or requisition it or forcibly borrow it to make these resources equivalent to tax-revenues for the purposes of Indian public finance? What can one say beyond this being grotesque in its incomprehension of both facts and economic principles? Could someone who supports the BJP please teach them some Econ 101 asap?
As I have said elsewhere, only quackery, fallacious finance and multitudinous intellectual fraud seem destined to emerge from New Delhi’s governing class of all political parties and their media and businessman friends. “Government finance requires scientific honesty, especially by way of clear rigorous accounting and audit of uses and origins of public resources. That scientific honesty is what we have not had at Union or State level for more than half a century.”
Subroto Roy, Kolkata