Tuesday, 7 February 2012

All is fair in Love, War and Indian Elections

The campaigning for the UP elections would be funny if it wasn't for the fact that we are talking about the governing of a nation here and for the fact that India's economic growth has been slowing down over the last 3 years, enough to make Standard and Poor sit up and warn India that it's rating is under threat

The latest promise by the Congress in UP says it will give out a mobile bill subsidy to the tune of 20% in the rural areas of that state. I have two objections here - the first is the giving of a subsidy itself, irrespective of which commodity it is for. Any government, if it genuinely wants its people to progress, should focus on creating infrastructure and employment instead of wasting it's budgets on subsidies. The former has a far more long lasting impact on the lives of people and is sustainable as the government can slowly withdraw (after creating basic infrastructure) and let the private sector take over. Given India's precarious fiscal situation, committing budgets to subsidies is foolish and possibly economically suicidal. 

My second objection is that mobile connections are hardly an essential service that they should be subsidised. If there is a market for mobile services in rural UP, market forces will ensure that services are provided at a rate that is affordable to the people. If not, mobile services are not the first priority for government intervention. It is useful technology no doubt but schools, roads, electricity, sanitation, good hospitals etc are far more useful and would go a long way towards improving the standard of living of the people. If the Congress party HAS to talk about subsidies, I'd rather it subsidise good quality education or health care. A mobile subsidy is merely a placebo for the populace and an avenue for dozens of middlemen to make profits.

But then the Congress is not alone. Parties have talked everything from subsidised laptops to erection of statues this election season. A clear sign that governance is no longer a question to be raised in election campaigning. In the aftermath of scams and corruption allegations, political parties continue to insult the electorate by talking handouts and subsidies making beggars of us instead of creating opportunity for production and productivity to thrive.

We, the electorate, are unfortunately foolish enough to fall for it. We forget that these benefits will disappear, like the smoke after the fire. We forget that we ARE paying for it - in the form of taxes, in the form of inflation, in the form of poor economic growth. The only people getting anything for free are the corrupt politicians and middlemen. Such is the state of Indian democracy today - touted as the world's largest democracy, we are nothing but a sham. Some day, the free lunches will come to an end.

Monday, 6 February 2012

I don't like the word "Compromise"

I was reading something I wrote, as part of an essay competition, when I was in the ninth grade. The competition had asked us to explain a quote out of The Fountainhead, one of my favourite books (all Ayn Rand critics, please hold your horses... this post is not about her or the book). The crux of the essay was the issue of compromise.

Reading that essay today, I would like to add a subtext. Life is not about NOT making compromises. It is about not thinking of compromise as sacrifice. And there's a very subtle but important difference here. When we make a compromise, whether for the sake of "long term benefit" or "peace in the house" or because it seems like the "best" alternative available, it tends to be accompanied by a fit of self pity. As though we've given up on something or been forced to do so against our wishes. But I think a compromise made willingly, voluntarily is just a choice made in favour of one value over another, the happiness of a loved one over buying the latest gadget in town for example.

I think it's important to understand this distinction because interpreting compromise as sacrifice (by the way, I don't believe in the general notion of sacrifice for the same reason as above. I do think it's impossible to knowingly make a decision that causes harm to oneself without any proportionate gain) makes our relationships ugly and murky. The most common sentence uttered in a fight between two people is "I've given up so much for you" and it multifarious variations. We'd probably be better off if we understood it simply as choice without the undercurrents of self pity that the word compromise brings.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Newspaper wars

On the 25th, The Hindu, Chennai's oldest English paper started an advertising campaign against The Times of India, India's most read English paper.

Hindu's campaign, for those who know the paper, is surprisingly cheeky (as intended by the publication... and being privy to a little inside information, I can say that with certainty).

Times of India, with it's customary confidence and arrogance replied back today.

Newspaper wars begin in Chennai???

I know many people in Chennai who believe the Times of India will never replace The Hindu. But TOI is a formidable opponent nevertheless.

This is a battle that will be worth watching... will The Hindu buckle or with the Old Lady of Boribunder get more intellectual?