THE WARM EMBRACE OF TWO GOOD MEN

The spic-and-span, groomed-like-a-bridegroom personage on the right is Mr. Narendra Modi, usually referred to by the sobriquet NaMo.  Namo in ordinary parlance is a word reserved for greeting  Hindu gods during prayers.

RamdevModi

Mr.  Modi or  NaMo has been given until 2019 to install a Ram temple in Ayodhya,  where a mosque was pulled down by Hindu volunteers in 1991. “The government has its own priority and it will work according to it…It has ample time till 2019,” explained  Mr. Dattatreya Hosabale, of RSS, a semi-militant National (Hindu) Volunteer Organization, elaborating an announcement to that effect by Mr. Mohan Bhagat, his chief. RSS has little regard for the Constitutional proclamation that India is a “sovereign socialist secular democratic Republic”

It was the telling support of RSS that elevated Mr. Modi  to his present status of Prime Minister of India. The 31% popular vote  that his  party received in  recent national elections has given him , by the unique electoral laws of India which does not call for a second or third round of voting to fix 50% plus majority, the number of seats to make an absolute majority in the lower house of the legislative body.

As soon as election results were known, or even anticipated, many members of the party, including members of parliament and state ministers had expressed the fervent hope that Mr. Modi will convert  secular India into a Hindu nation. Mr. Modi,  who was wiser to the situation than the rest, had tactfully changed his stand on the stand. There is a Muslim lady in his cabinet, another Muslim has been inducted in as a minor minister. He greeted Muslims during their Eid and declared, to the chagrin of some of his hopeful admirers,  that Muslims are as much citizens of India as anybody else.  He cannot, however, forget the warning implicit in his mentor’s  words that they are only willing to wait till 2019.

The one-eyed man with grisly beard and saffron clothes hugging Mr. Modi is Mr. Ram Yadav, popularly known by the sobriquet Baba Ramdev. Baba, like Namo, is also an honorific given to divine people although the word originally meant Father. Witness Sai Baba and Nirmal  BabaDev could be an ordinarily innocent Hindu name just as Ram is, but in this case it means a minor god.   Ramdev is a yoga guru who runs live yoga classes on television just as Indira Gandhi’s guru Dhirendra Brahmachari used to do  to the  smaller B&W TV audience of the time. Ramdev can stand on his head and make his midriff almost disappear by breathing the hell out of his system. His knowledge of statistics is of a high order. He once said that if all the Indian black money in banks abroad can be brought back,  that would put 300,000 rupees in each pocket.  That is, 300 trillion rupees or nearly 5 trillion US dollars, more than India’s best GDP figure. That putting 300 thousand rupees into each pocket without matching production would raise inflation to Zimbabwe levels did not occur to the  Baba who happens to be a school dropout.

While promising to bring all the money back without putting a figure to it, Mr. Modi is at the time of my writing this piece busy sweeping  streets in Varanasi – the constituency that elected him. Sweeping streets by very important persons and celebrities is supposed to herald a squeaky clean India.  When a VIP announces his intention to clean a particular street under the “Swatch Bharat” (Clean India) program promoted by Mr. Modi, the VIP’s minions spread garbage in that street and get cameras of obliging media placed strategically. The idea is that if a few VIPs,  moneybags like Anil  Ambani, some party stalwarts, Mr. Modi himself, even opposition leader Shashi Tharoor, cricketer  Sachin Tendulkar and a few Bollywood stars led by Amitabh Bachhan  clean streets once in their lifetime and get their action photos published, the non-VIP peasants, security guards and village clerks will start cleaning their surroundings every day.

Mr. Modi’s plan for a clean India is supposed to work like a Ponzy scheme : nine people, following the example of  the illustrious leaders clean their streets, and each of the nine recruits another nine (now total 100), and each of the hundred sponsors nine more..And so on, until in a short while, you will have every street in India swept clean, thereby relieving the local, state  and central government of the responsibility and expenditure of  building public lavatories and employing cleaning staff, and of educating school children, their teachers and parents not to relieve themselves on public roads, fields, river banks, canals and sea beaches. For a change, tourists will find it safe to walk on our streets, relax on our beaches and hike through our jungle trails.

Make in India  is  a hugely productive  slogan coined by Mr. NaMo. Make what in India?

From Automobiles to Agro-products

From hardware to software, television to telecom,

Pharma to Biotech, Paper to Power Plant,

Roads to Bridges, Houses to Smart cities,

Friendship to Partnership.

Make in India.

That is what  a TV clip paid for by the Government of India says. I notice that ad clip on BBC channel frequently enough to make me wonder how much money that would have  cost me, a retired tax payer. You do not find any imaginative  enterprise listed anew.  We are already making  automobiles that are glutted in international market, and are choking our streets.  Ample televisions are already  being made in India by Philips to Samsung,  hardware by Intel to software by Dell. Building roads are stuck by absence of land and abundance of litigation. Housing is approaching the state where Shanghai  reached  a few years ago – too many houses, no buyers. Software? Is there an elbow room to get in to the crowd of  Infosys, TCS and Wipro InfoTech, not to mention a thousand others? How many BPOs and back offices for foreign companies have folded up, throwing out trained and ambitious youngsters,  never to open again? What money or technology in software can the moneybags from abroad bring to India? I find India-made Micromax (production begun far ahead of Mr. Modi’s installation of Premiership) doing better than Samsung and Apple in India. Our Chinese driver carries a Micromax, which you can buy in Hong Kong. In the meanwhile, Nokia in India, one of the best paying companies was bought and wound up due to labour troubles, later bought by Microsoft only to close it down .

What we need is not for foreigners to make in India, but to invest into our making, induct technology and automation to improve productivity with adequate provision for employment, and organize marketing abroad. What we also need in India is to fund innovation and invention, not to wait till a technology gets outdated in Europe to buy it cheap. Make in India is a naive slogan that does not appear capable of serving the purpose.

Consider Biotech and Pharma.  Friend Ramdev and advisory RSS are against modern medicine (euphemistically called Western medicine). Ramdev says he has the cure-all remedies, not to mention yoga that can cure  Aids , or at least make it bearable, according to him. Hindu newspaper once printed a news item that Ramdev claimed that he could also cure Ebola, which the latter denied obliquely – he said you can’t believe everything that appears in print. Ramdev says that allopathic medicines are dangerous and must be avoided. Why would foreign investors make something in India that Indians find toxic and dangerous? Why would foreigners buy it?

At the time of NaMo government assuming power, India stood at a ranking of 142 out of 189  in ease of business ranking – 28 points below Indonesia, and 14 points below violence-riddled Pakistan. Figures available in recent months on the media do not indicate a promise of sharp increase in FDI investment that would promote our interest while also serving theirs, which alone can improve India’s balance of payment position. On the other hand, FII is stacking up in mutual funds and equities because black money tunneled through Mauritius is best for gambling.

Mr. Modi meets foreign entrepreneurs with great fanfare, particularly Indian Diaspora, and get a shabash pat on his back for the enthusiasm and energy he displays – which is in  contrast to the the previous Prime Minister’s well-meaning and wise mumbles spoken under his beard without visible enthusiasm. A few words of admiration by the white man in the West works wonders on Indian’s self assurance that all is going to be well.  Foreign media have been providing those words of encouragement, though often with their tongues firmly in their cheeks.

NaMo went to Japan and got a promise of 35 billion dollars in 5 years. Then  from China a promise of 20 billion against a hundred million bandied about by Indian media. From America, a promise to make more promises.  Constructive discussions  in furtherance of existing agreement on nuclear energy which  is so important for power starved India – was barely brought up because his party carries a baggage of opposition to it, though now they claim that the objection was only conditional. Mention of FDI in retail is  probably taboo. In the  cities of Communist China you can find any number of multi brand Wal-Mart, Carrefour and IKEA retail  stores. There, alongside malls thrive breakfast stores, small grocers, fruit stalls, bars, wine shops and restaurants.  NaMo would be hard put to invite investment from Wal-Mart –  except through back doors. Opposition to Wal-Mart is another baggage that his party has thrust on his back.

Foreign institutional investment – the money that goes into equities, mutual funds etc, has been steadily increasing, thereby bloating up the stock exchange indices. This encourages the Indian public to gamble their money into stocks and mutual funds. Unproductive fund flow gives an impression of prosperity while the rupee value steadily goes down. Less the rupee value, better for the foreign investor, because his dollar gives him higher rupee investment, but worse for the domestic one. One day when Reserve Bank finds it has too much dollar in hand, it releases dollars in the market, Rupee rises, the foreigner finds he could get more dollar for  his money lying in the form of rupee, and makes a bee-line to withdraw the funds. Stocks fall like bricks after a mortar attack, and the Indian investor finds himself a pauper. This has been happening every few years, and you find a couple of your rich neighbours killing themselves like debt-ridden peasants. Gamblers never learn.

Both Ramdev and RSS give call to  Buy only Indian. It is another matter that the holy men of India travel only in Mercedes Benz or BMW.  While asking people to travel in India-made Nano, Ramdev claimed that he escaped when a crowd pelted stones at him because he travelled in a bulletproof car. What bullet-proof car did he make? I doubt it was Ambassador or  Maruti.  It is unlikely that he travels by an India-made airplane when he travels abroad to take a sojourn away from the million devotees.

Ramdev owns a Scottish island supposedly gifted by his devotees there. His trust claims the island costs only 2 million US Dollars; Enforcement Directorate noted it was worth over 20 million. Why and how he should send 300,000 dollars to a London bank and another 80,000 to Madagascar when he only buys Indian goods and puts only local ingredients into his Ayurvedic  medicines  is another question that hangs fire. Bone-products were found in some of his medicines, they surely were not of imported animals? I am discounting a communist leader’s allegation that human bones were used, and even if they were , they could hardly be mported from Madagascar for 80,000 dollars or from London for 300,000 dollars.

The case filed against him by ED appears to have vanished into thin air, much like Zakiya Jafri’s plea for justice has .  Ramdev had never been a non-resident, nor had he been staying outside India for longer than 182 days;  the Indian couple who ‘gifted ‘ him those 2 or 20 million worth of property are not his close relations. Why the income tax has not  hauled him up for not paying tax on that income of 2 or 20 million dollars (12.2 crore or 120.20 crore Rupees) remains another mystery.

“I have done nothing wrong,” is what Ramdev said in his defence. That is the stock answer of all those who have done many things wrong.  In the meanwhile, he entered the political arena demanding that all black money, all 300 trillion of it, be brought home.

All said and done, the embrace of two good men bodes well for India. What would happen  when Mr. Mohan Bhagat  and  Dattatreya Hosabale wake up  their volunteers in khaki shorts in 2019 to build that urgently required Ram Temples a matter of conjuncture.

We had seen such  conjunctures coming to life  in  1947, 1984, 1991 and 2002.

_______________________________________________________________

Epilogue

In May this year, while waiting for a bus in Bangalore I met a stranger and got into conversation.  I asked him whether he would vote for NaMo’s party or Sonia Gandhi’s servants. He said : “Show me an alternative, I will vote for them”.

The only faces that came to my mind were those of incompetent but ambitious nincompoops and thoroughly competent scoundrels.

 

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