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My Friend Sancho

My first novel, My Friend Sancho, is now on the stands across India. It is a contemporary love story set in Mumbai, and was longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize 2008. To learn more about the book, click here.


To buy it online from the US, click here.


I am currently on a book tour to promote the book. Please check out our schedule of city launches. India Uncut readers are invited to all of them, no pass required, so do drop in and say hello.


If you're interested, do join the Facebook group for My Friend Sancho


Click here for more about my publisher, Hachette India.


And ah, my posts on India Uncut about My Friend Sancho can be found here.


Bastiat Prize 2007 Winner

Category Archives: Politics

The Hardest Kind of Politics

Quote of the day:

We are not trying to win the elections, we are trying to have elections.

That’s Garry Kasparov, the greatest chess player ever, who is engaged in his hardest game yet—against Vladimir Putin, who has the equivalent of eight queens to begin with. Can Kasparov win?

If you’re interested in both chess and politics, as I am, I recommend you check out Kasparov’s book, How Life Imitates Chess. I found it immensely fascinating for his explanation of how his early matches against Anatoly Karpov taught him lessons that he is now using against Putin.

(First link via Instapundit.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 27 September, 2007 in Freedom | Politics | Sport


The Negative Proof Fallacy

The WTF quote of the day comes from Praveen Togadia, who says, in an interview with Rediff:

According to rationalists, anything that cannot be proven does not exist. Therefore, since God’s existence has not been proven, he too does not exist. I want to ask them: Has it been proven that God does not exist? So, why are you so eager to believe that God does not exist?

Togadia, of course, is committing the Negative Proof Fallacy. Daft, but entirely expected from the man.

Also, atheism, contrary to a common misconception, is not the belief that there is no God, but the absence of belief in God. There is a difference between believing that there is no God, and not believing that there is God. The former might be an article of faith, but the latter is entirely rational.

For more, read my post, Atheism as the Absence of Belief.

(Togadia link via email from Gautam John.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 26 September, 2007 in Miscellaneous | Politics | WTF


Where Your Taxes Go: 25

The Indian cricket team.

Yes, the Maharashtra government is giving Rs10 Lakh each to Ajit Agarkar and Rohit Sharma, and the Delhi government is handing out Rs5 lakh each to Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir. This is disgraceful. If Vilasrao Deshmukh and Sheila Dikshit wish to use India’s victory to make a statement, they should spend their own money. All poor people in this country, from maids to chaprasis to cycle-rickshaw drivers, pay taxes every time they buy anything. It is ludicrous that their hard-earned money, coercively collected by the state, should be spent on cricketers with endorsements that are worth crores.

(Link via email from Jitendra Mohan. Where your taxes go: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24. Also see: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

My essays on taxes and government: Your maid funds Unani, A beast called government, A Business Proposal.)

Update: Speaking of endorsements...

(Link via reader Surendra.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 26 September, 2007 in Economics | India | Old memes | Taxes | Politics | Sport


BP Singhal, Entertainer

WTF quote of the day:

Anybody who wants to denigrate another religion, I call him a Christian. You must find out Ambika Soni’s religion.

This is Hindutva defender BP Singhal, as interviewed by Shivam Vij. It is a priceless rant, but its entertainment value is diluted by the fact that many people take Singhal seriously, and share his sentiments.

This fine exchange takes place between Shivam and Singhal in another part of the interview:

[T]here is an objective way of looking at such things that can recognise mythology but not mythological beliefs.

If you come to the scientific realm I will give you scientific evidence. There are seventh century onward coins which have the word Setu on them. There are temple complexes in Indonesia which have sculptures of seven monkeys carrying stones on their arms and heads, and with bows and arrows Lakshman and Ram behind them.

But those could be artistic representations of mythological stories.

Who are you to give your interpretation, artistic or non-artistic! And who is anybody? There is a picture that speaks for itself. If you don’t understand its language say I don’t understand its language. But you have no right whatsoever to give another interpretation than what it is giving in your face!

That’s right, whatever Singhal says is fact, and anything else is an interpretation that no one has the right to articulate. Who are you to give your interpretation, eh?

The best part comes when Singhal is asked about what he thinks is the motive for wanting to destroy the Ram Setu, and he says:

Americans! Americans! Americans and the Christians. I mean, Christians because of Americans and Americans because of Christians, and Christians themselves.

So you see, illogical anti-Americanism is not just a feature of the Loony Left, but also of the Rabid Right. Such it is, such it goes…

Posted by Amit Varma on 24 September, 2007 in Politics | WTF


The Rise of Intolerance in Bangladesh

Our Gods are so weak that they cannot defend themselves, so we must do it for them. FP Passport reports that a controversy has erupted in Bangladesh over the publication of a cartoon with the following accompanying text:

A man: What is your name?
Boy: Babu.
Man: You should say “Mohammed Babu”. What’s is your father’s name?
Boy: X.
Man: You should say “Mohammed X”.  What is that in your lap?
Boy: Mohammed cat.

Pretty harmless, I would think—indeed, how can any cartoon be harmful?—but religious conservatives in Bangladesh are up in arms. The cartoonist, a 20-year-old kid, has reportedly been arrested, and the sub-editor of that humour section has been “terminated for carelessness.” (I’m presuming by ‘terminated’ they mean fired from his job, and nothing more sinister!) There are also calls to arrest the editor of the newspaper where the cartoon was published, the much-respected Matiur Rahman.

Commenting on it in that FP post, Blake Hounshell writes:

This story isn’t about hurt feelings; it’s about raw political power. [...] It’s a familiar pattern in Muslim countries ruled by authoritarian governments: Religious conservatives use religion cynically to embarrass the regime and whip up populist sentiment. Over time, they can force the government to make accommodating moves and concede elements of government to the clerics. And the state can’t exactly stand up for the principle of freedom of speech, because it’s usually no great shakes on that score, either.

This is a pattern that goes beyond Bangladesh and, indeed, beyond Muslim countries. In fact, it sounds quite familiar to me. You?

Rezwan of Global Voices has a round-up of the affair here. I got the FP link via email from Gautam John.

Also see: My piece on intolerance in India, “Don’t Insult Pasta.” And also, “God resigns.”

Posted by Amit Varma on 21 September, 2007 in Freedom | Politics


Political Correctness…

... knows no limits.

And that last line just makes me angry. Gendered normativity my ass.

Posted by Amit Varma on 17 September, 2007 in Miscellaneous | Politics


The Hindu-American Lobby?

David Remnick quotes Zbigniew Brzezinski as writing:

The participation of ethnic or foreign-supported lobbies in the American policy process is nothing new. In my public life, I have dealt with a number of them. I would rank the Israeli-American, Cuban-American, and Armenian-American lobbies as the most effective in their assertiveness. The Greek- and Taiwanese-American lobbies also rank highly in my book. The Polish-American lobby was at one time influential (Franklin Roosevelt complained about it to Joseph Stalin), and I daresay that before long we will be hearing a lot from the Mexican-, Hindu-, and Chinese-American lobbies as well.

I presume he means the Indian-American lobby—I suppose one should be glad that he didn’t call it the Hindoo-American lobby. As Anand wrote when we were discussing this on email, “I suppose Hanlon’s Razor applies here too.”

(Remnick link via Smoke Signals.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 17 September, 2007 in Miscellaneous | Politics


The Public Distribution System (Heh)

The Economic Times reports:

In the last three years, Rs 31,585.98 crore worth of wheat and rice meant for the poorest of the poor was siphoned off from the public distribution system.

Last year alone, Rs 11,336.98 crore worth of foodgrain that the government is supposed to distribute to the needy at subsidised prices found its way into the market illegally.

Every year, India’s poor are cheated out of 53.3% of wheat and 39% of rice meant for them. [...] The North-East is in a class of its own. Of the eight states here, not a single grain of wheat supplied to six — Sikkim, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Assam — reaches the targeted poor.

All this, mind you, when farmers in most states are barred from selling their produce outside their state, and free markets aren’t allowed to function in agriculture. It’s a classic template: First you strangle the market; then you say, hey, some problems the market can’t solve, so the government, in all its bountiful compassion, must step in and take care of the poor. And then you have bureaucrats’ children going abroad to study on daddy’s money, and minor politicians buying farmhouses and fancy cars, and [fill in your illustration here]. Joyful.

Related columns by me: “A Beast Called Government.” “A Business Proposal.”

(Link via email from Jayakamal Balasubramani.)

Update: Ha!

(Via email from reader Vikram Chandrashekar.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 17 September, 2007 in Economics | Freedom | India | Politics


Power and Corruption

Megan McArdle writes about the Republicans:

I think they are tarred with scandal right now because that’s what happens to the party in power—by which I mean, the party in power is the one with the big opportunities for corruption. Bill Clinton got caught renting out the Lincoln Bedroom to donors because he had the Lincoln Bedroom to rent out. I did not admire the Republican machine’s depradations on K Street, and think that they were a disgusting innovation in American political culture. But now that that machinery is in place, I will be very surprised if the Democrats don’t use it. I will be very pleased, of course, to be proven wrong; but if Democrats control Congress for ten years, I expect that the end result will be a rash of corruption scandals with Republicans crying that the Party of Tammany Hall is just doing what it has always done, while conveniently forgetting their own more recent history.

I think most politicians, like most people, are basically well meaning folks who act out of some combination of idealism, a fervent desire to be liked, greed, power hunger, and trenchant ability for self-deception. I do not think that these qualities are notably unequally distributed between the parties, which is why I don’t identify with either of them.

Indeed, the more power you give to government, and the more discretion you give to ‘public servants’, the more corrupt the party in power will be. That’s just how the incentives are lined up under our system of government (and, indeed, America’s). Changing the party in power won’t change that, just as slapping one mosquito on your arm won’t make sure that other mosquitoes don’t attack you if you live in a swamp.

Sadly, you do.

Posted by Amit Varma on 17 September, 2007 in Economics | Politics


On Government Spending

The Libertarian Reader is an outstanding collection of essays, and one of my personal favourites is a piece by Russell Roberts (of Cafe Hayek) that appeared 12 years ago in the Wall Street Journal, “If You’re Paying, I’ll Have Top Sirloin.” Here’s an excerpt, in which Roberts describes “a very strange restaurant”:

When you eat there, you usually spend about $6—you have a sandwich, some fries and a drink. Of course you’d also enjoy dessert and a second drink, but that costs an additional $4. The extra food isn’t worth $4 to you, so you stick with the $6 meal.

Sometimes, you go to the same restaurant with three friends. The four of you are in the habit of splitting the check evenly. You realize after a while that the $4 drink and dessert will end up costing you only $1, because the total tab is split four ways. Should you order the drink and dessert? If you’re a nice person, you might want to spare your friends from having to subsidize your extravagance. Then it dawns on you that they may be ordering extras financed out of your pocket. But they’re your friends. They wouldn’t do that to you and you wouldn’t do that to them. And if anyone tries it among the group, social pressure will keep things under control.

But now suppose the tab is split not at each table but across the 100 diners that evening across all the tables. Now adding the $4 drink and dessert costs only 4¢. Splurging is easy to justify now. In fact you won’t just add a drink and dessert; you’ll upgrade to the steak and add a bottle of wine. Suppose you and everyone else each orders $40 worth of food. The tab for the entire restaurant will be $4000. Divided by the 100 diners, your bill comes to $40. Here is the irony. Like my neighbor at the theater, you’ll get your “fair share.” The stranger at the restaurant a few tables over pays for your meal, but you also help subsidize his. It all “evens out.”

But this outcome is a disaster. When you dine alone, you spend $6. The extra $34 of steak and other treats are not worth it. But in competition with the others, you’ve chosen a meal far out of your price range whose enjoyment falls far short of its cost.

Self-restraint goes unrewarded. If you go back to ordering your $6 meal in hopes of saving money, your tab will be close to $40 anyway unless the other 99 diners cut back also. The good citizen feels like a chump.

And so we read of the freshman Congressman who comes to Congress eager to cut pork out of the budget but in trouble back home because local projects will also come under the knife. Instead of being proud to lead the way, he is forced to fight for those projects to make sure his district gets its “fair share.”

Matters get much worse when there are gluttons and drunkards at the restaurant mixing with dieters and teetotalers. The average tab might be $40, but some are eating $80 worth of food while others are stuck with a salad and an iced tea.

Those with modest appetites would like to flee the smorgasbord, but suppose it’s the only restaurant in town and you are forced to eat there every night. Resentment and anger come naturally. And being the only restaurant in town, you can imagine the quality of the service.

That’s government. Read the full essay, it’s a classic. Also, here’s what Don Boudreaux has to say on the subject.

Posted by Amit Varma on 14 September, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | IU Faves | Economics | Politics


Certainty

Quote for the day:

The fanatic has no questions, only answers.

—Elie Wiesel, quoted in What Makes a Terrorist by Alan B Krueger.

Posted by Amit Varma on 12 September, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Excerpts | Politics


On Bill Clinton’s Dedication

Line of the day:

Calling Hillary Clinton “a dedicated free-trader” is akin to calling Bill Clinton “a dedicated husband.”

That’s Don Boudreaux in a letter to the Washington Post. As readers of India Uncut know, I love Boudreaux’s writing. But I object to his implication that Bill Clinton is not a dedicated husband—it reduces the notion of marital commitment to sexual fidelity. That may be Boudreaux’s view of it, but Bill and Hillary might well view it differently. Hillary surely must think that Bill’s infidelities are outweighed by other manifestations of his dedication, or she would have walked away by now. No?

But yes, Hillary’s certainly no free-trader. No arguments there.

Posted by Amit Varma on 11 September, 2007 in Economics | Miscellaneous | Politics


“A Series Of Historic Blunders”

Salil Tripathi points me, via email, to an essay by Rudrangshu Mukherjee in the Telegraph, in which Mukherjee explains how “[t]he communists have consistently betrayed national interests.” An excerpt:

If nationalism, as the historian Jack Gallagher was fond of quipping, devours its parents, communism consumes its own ideology. Communism was born under the sign of internationalism. The project of world revolution did not recognize national boundaries. Thus, it is funny to see Indian communists today positioning themselves as great protectors of national sovereignty.

[...]

The communists are poised at the moment to withdraw support from the government led by Manmohan Singh unless the latter agrees to renegotiate the Indo-US nuclear treaty. The opposition of the communists is based not on substantial objections to the terms of the treaty, but to the fact that it brings India closer to the US. Prakash Karat, the general secretary of the CPI(M), made this clear in an article in People’s Democracy. He wrote, “The Left parties have been watching with disquiet the way the UPA government has gone about forging close strategic and military ties with the United States….The Left is clear that going ahead with the agreement will bind India to the United States in a manner that will seriously impair an independent foreign policy and our strategic autonomy.”

These, as anyone will recognize, are a series of ideological assertions and not rational arguments. The Left, since the Nineties, has lost all its ideological moorings: socialism is gone and China has turned to market capitalism; within India it has no political base anywhere save in West Bengal and Kerala. With no policies of its own, it has accepted economic reforms and begun to woo capital with some gusto in West Bengal. With everything gone, the Left clings to its anti-Americanism as a last ideological anchor. In the present context, however, the Left’s anti-US position echoes what the Chinese Communist Party is saying on the Indo-US nuclear deal. Karat, whether he likes it or not, is only parroting, like his predecessors did in 1942, 1947 and 1962, a political line coming out of a foreign country, in this case one that is hostile to India.

Having invested their lifetimes in a mistaken ideology, Karat and his cronies, as I wrote here, are unlikely to change. In normal circumstances, it wouldn’t matter—it is an extraordinary twist of fate that a grouping with around 7% of the national vote holds such a powerful position in our politics. The next elections will hopefully change that.

Posted by Amit Varma on 10 September, 2007 in India | Politics


On Violence, Scepticism And Shame

I’ve been busy recently, and am heading in an hour—yes, in the middle of the night, such a freak I am—to Hyderabad for a conference on liberalism in India. (The classical kind, not the mutated American leftie version.) A backlog of intended posts have piled up, a couple of which I’m saving for later, as they deal with large themes I want to comment on at length. But before that, some quick links.

Ramachandra Guha writes in the Hindustan Times about how Veer Savarkar, Bhagat Singh and Subhash Chandra Bose are making a resurgence as modern heroes in India. “These varying traditions and ideologies are united precisely by [a] call for blood” he writes. “Blood must be spilled, and plenty of it: whether to build a Hindu Rashtra, a Socialist Utopia, or a Bose-ian India.” He believes this is “mostly a male or macho thing” (isn’t all politics?), and finds it ironic, “this adoration of violent revolutionaries by men who owe their political independence and their democratic freedoms to a bunch of (now mostly dishonoured) non-violent reformers.”

I read the weekend columnists of our broadsheets with great interest—I will write more on what I think of each of them at length some other time—and I’m glad that the economist Kaushik Basu will write every Sunday for HT. In his first column last Sunday, he spoke of the virtues of scepticism. In a time when certainty counts for knowledge and vehemence is mistaken for strength, it is a welcome note to strike.

In a magnificent essay on cinematic style (via email from Prem), David Bordwell nails a challenge all columnists face. “Popular journalism doesn’t allow you to cite sources, counterpose arguments, develop subtle cases,” he writes. “No time! No space! No room for specialized explanations that might mystify ordinary readers! So when the critic proposes a controversial idea, he has to be brief, blunt, and absolute. If pressed, and still under the pressure of time and column inches, he will wave us toward other writers, appeal to intuition and authority, say that a broadside is really just aimed to get us thinking and talking.”

All true, the restraints we face, but still we try to be clear, and honest with ourselves and our readers. A column can’t be a book or a research paper, and I think readers appreciate that. No?

In my final link for this post (via Cafe Hayek), Noah Shachtman writes in his Iraq Diary of how a consultant on the middle east, “Mac” Macallister, enlightened him on the foolishness of the American policy to give free soccer balls to Iraqi kids. He writes:

“I, as an individual, may want that kid to have a soccer ball.  But consider the effect, okay?” he [Macallister] says.

Shame and honor are “limited resources,” Mac explains.  “They’re exchanged like currency.  And it’s a zero sum game.  If I embarrass you, I take some of your honor, and you give me some of your shame. Now you want to do something to get it back.

“The father, off to the side, is thinking, ‘Hey, that’s my job.’ So you’ve shamed him.  He might also know that the kid doesn’t deserve it.  Shamed him again.  And if you give the ball to the little kid, he could get beat up, since the bigger ones prey on the littler ones. More shame.  So does that father grab an Ak-47 and do a drive-by, to get back some of his honor?”

Okay, the soccer-for-shooting exchange is a little extreme…

That’s a superb point, and one that I’ve experienced in a different context. When I travelled through the tsunami-affected areas of Tamil Nadu in December 2004 and January 2005, I found that while many people donated clothes, those clothes mostly formed little colourful heaps by the roadsides of TN. The people they were meant for were not beggars, and their sense of honour would not allow them to take old clothes. If you wanted to help them, you had to be careful about how that help was offered. Even poor people have pride. (Some related posts I’d made then: 1, 2, 3.)

Blogging may be light over the next couple of days. Don’t be naughty and go surfing porn just because you don’t find new posts here.

Posted by Amit Varma on 05 September, 2007 in India | Journalism | Personal | Politics


Mandatory Health Care Or Predatory Health Care?

If John Edwards becomes the next US president, his government will force people to visit doctors. AP reports:

Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards said on Sunday that his universal health care proposal would require that Americans go to the doctor for preventive care.

“It requires that everybody be covered. It requires that everybody get preventive care,” he told a crowd sitting in lawn chairs in front of the Cedar County Courthouse. “If you are going to be in the system, you can’t choose not to go to the doctor for 20 years. You have to go in and be checked and make sure that you are OK.”

I have a huge problem with anything that has the word ‘mandatory’ in it. Immense mummy-daddyness happening.

(Link via email from Ravikiran Rao.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 05 September, 2007 in Economics | Freedom | Politics


Pick A Number Between 20 And 93

Picked? Ok, so that’s the percentage of people in India below the poverty line.

Here, check out the numbers picked by others.

Why, you ask, is there such little agreement on this figure? The reason is that the figure people come up with often has more to do with ideology than with statistics, with what they want to believe than with what is true. Given what’s at stake, that’s such a pity.

(Link via Neelakantan at the IEB.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 04 September, 2007 in Economics | India | Politics


Critic = Madman

“Russian authorities are sending critics to psychiatric wards,” reports Newsweek. For example:

The most high-profile thus far involves Larisa Arap, a 48-year-old journalist in Apatity, near Murmansk, who had given an interview to a local newspaper in June that was highly critical of the region’s state psychiatric hospitals. Arap was also an activist with the local branch of United Civil Front, a Kremlin opposition movement. In early July, she went to the hospital for a routine check-up required by law to renew her driving license. But, as she recalls, someone in the hospital called the police, and by evening, she had been committed to a psychiatric hospital, stripped of her clothes, tied to a bed and sedated. “Doctors told me that I would experience all the practices I had complained about in the papers,” Arap told Newsweek while still in the hospital. “They also told me that I was locked up for life.” The hospital’s head doctor, Yevgeny Zenin, told Newsweek, “We do not care what independent commissions of psychiatrists, or the United Nations, or even aliens tell us. Once we decide to keep a patient here, we will. The courts will always listen to us and no one else.”

Thankfully, Arap has been released. But she was a high-profile victim—other, lesser-known critics of the Russian government may not be quite so lucky.

Further reading: “Russia: Is Coercive Psychology Staging A Comeback?”.

Posted by Amit Varma on 04 September, 2007 in Freedom | Politics


So Much For The Aam Aadmi

S Narayan comments on the government’s draft policy for relief and rehabilitation:

Two serious flaws in the draft are striking. First, those dispossessed of land by private developers, have to be given government land—an indirect subsidy for the developers. If that is not available, private land will be compulsorily acquired to rehabilitate them. For those dispossessed by such acquisition, the same process again. The outcome will be much more compulsory land acquisition, not less. Besides, the draft nowhere defines what measures of ‘relief’ or rehabilitation are adequate and leaves this to a group of officials. This implies incentive for rent seeking, by the officials and on behalf of the developers, to the detriment of the dispossessed.

So much for the aam admi.

For those on the receiving end of this, this is Kafkaesque madness. My views, as expressed here in the context of Singur, are that eminent domain—the coercive appropriation of land by the government—can at most be excused “as a last resort for matters of public use, such as building roads, but it is outrageous when it is applied to take land from poor farmers and give it to a rich industrial house,” or to other private parties. Instead, the government should enable the private parties to acquire the land themselves, which will ensure that the farmers get the true market value for their land—if they wish to sell. If they don’t, they shouldn’t have to.

Posted by Amit Varma on 03 September, 2007 in Economics | Freedom | India | Politics


Opportunity Missed?

Manjeet Kripalani has a nice piece in the latest Business Week on how Manmohan Singh has been a disappointing prime minister. However, there is one sentence that befuddles me:

[Manmohan Singh’s] government has been so embroiled in internal disputes that New Delhi has failed to capitalize on an extraordinary opportunity to cut farm and oil subsidies, abolish rent control laws, and change onerous labor regulations.

When exactly did this opportunity exist? It is India’s tragedy that these reforms, so necessary for us, haven’t been politically possible for a long time now. That is especially true for Manmohan’s government, hobbled as it was by the Left parties, who could hold a gun to his head despite winning just around 7% of the votes in the last elections.

The opportunity, if it existed at any time, did so in the years following 1991, when the balance-of-payments crisis forced us into a half-hearted liberalization. Once that crisis passed, the pace of reforms slowed, and any talk of it since then has been mostly rhetoric and wishful thinking. If Manmohan’s performance has been a letdown, it is in the context of the hype built around him as the liberalizer of 1991, and not in the context of the state of Indian politics today. Given the composition of the Indian parliament, this is the best we could have hoped for. Alas.

(Link via email from Gautam John.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 01 September, 2007 in Economics | India | Politics


Meira Kumar’s Maths

Our minister for ‘social justice and empowerment’ is a hoot. In an interview with Ashish Sharma of Mint, Meira Kumar says:

You are talking about other parties, but let me tell you they are only building on the foundation laid by the Congress. Nobody sees the foundation, only the building is visible. If you add zero to zero, you still get zero. If you add one to one, you get two. Remember, the Congress had to start from zero.

Heh. As far as I’m concerned, we’re actually at minus three, working our way up from minus five (under Indira Gandhi) after the Congress started from zero. And if you think my math is dubious, hell, Meira started it!

(Link via email from Anand Krishnamoorthi.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 29 August, 2007 in Economics | Freedom | India | Politics


Iraq Is Not Vietnam

Christopher Hitchens explains why.

Actually, there are such conflicting views of Iraq going around that it might also be true to say that Iraq is not Iraq. Such it is.

Posted by Amit Varma on 28 August, 2007 in Politics | Small thoughts


The State of the State

My buddy Rahul Bhatia messages me a newsflash he’s seen on CNN-IBN:

PM expresses concern over welfare of people’s welfare.

Indeed, the problem with India is that we are more concerned with the “welfare of people’s welfare” than with people’s welfare. If you know what I mean.

*  *  *

In other Rahul Bhatia news, the man has an excellent piece in the Wall Street Journal about the ICL and the BCCI. He had earlier written an editorial for Mint on the subject.

More: My take on that subject, “What Indian Cricket Needs.”

Prem Panicker’s post, “Cry Havoc.”

Posted by Amit Varma on 25 August, 2007 in India | Journalism | Media | Politics | Sport


Government control over reincarnation?

WTF news of the day:

“China bans Buddhist monks in Tibet from reincarnating without government permission.”

If this had happened in Hayek’s time, he might have written Fatal Delusion instead of Fatal Conceit. Immense amusement explodes, even as I wonder how the Chinese government will catch transgressors.

Also see: Scott Adams’s hilarious post on it.

(Link via email from Kartik Varadpande.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 21 August, 2007 in Freedom | Politics | WTF


Investing in an Ideology

Nick Cohen writes in his book, Far Left—How Liberals Lost Their Way:

Cult leaders know they must exhaust their followers as well as isolate them. The harder the party or the church forces them to work, the less time they have to think for themselves. As important, the harder they work, the greater their investment and the tougher it becomes to accept that the years of labour have been an expense of spirit in a waste of shame. Overly rational historians wonder why supporters of causes from Bolshevism through to Islamism don’t give up when they realize that the death and suffering will never bring the workers’  paradise or new Caliphate; why they fight on for decades, only to achieve more death and suffering? They forget the emotional outlay and the lost lives of dead comrades and martyrs. For immense and minute revolutionary movements alike, more suffering is easier to accept than the admission that all the previous suffering was in vain.

The point of needing to justify the investment one has already made in a cause is spot on, and explains the central problem of the Indian Left. Even if all evidence shows that Leftist philosophy is fatally flawed, that everything the Left does in the name of the poor actually harms the poor, that it does not make moral or utilitarian sense to assign different values to personal and economic freedoms, people of the Left, and Indian intellectuals who have built their worldviews and staked their reputations on Leftist dogma, will continue to be in denial. No matter how often they are mugged by reality, the likes of Prakash Karat and AB Bardhan will never have the courage to confront a lifetime of mistaken thinking, and to admit that it was all a waste. Given that, one can rationalise anything.

Cohen’s book is a wonderful read, by the way, and I can’t resist sharing this wonderful nugget about Gerry Healy, the leader of the Workers Revolutionary party, which imploded spectacularly in 1985 when 26 woman members accused Healy of sexual abuse:

The Sunday Mirror described how Healy’s seduction technique included chat-up lines Leon Trotsky would have recognized. ‘He would throw his arms around women and tell them to submit. If they protested—and some of them did—he would say, “You are doing this for the party and I AM THE PARTY”’.

Smooth.

Posted by Amit Varma on 19 August, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Excerpts | Freedom | India | Politics


A Business Proposal

This is the 27th installment of my weekly column for Mint, Thinking it Through.

Hello dear! Myself Ram Chander Misra, politician from India, bringing business proposal for your kind perusal. I have been politician for more than 30 years now, and have worked in all major parties. I am currently holding important ministry portfolio, and handling many crores of funds for social welfare scheme. Indeed, many thousands of crores of rupees. Which comes to many BILLIONS OF DOLLARS, dear. And this is where I need your help.

First, dear, let me tell you something about Indian government. Government of India is existing on the basis that it will help poor people of India. This it can only do if there are poor people in India. Thus, it is important to keep people in India poor. This is for their own good, dear, for how can we help them otherwise?

Government of India does this with very ingenuous method that is tried and tested through centuries. First, it taxes them vigorously, both their earnings and spendings, promising to spend their money back on them. But for every 100 rupees that we take, only 15 are spent as they should. I will come back to what happens to the rest, dear, because it CONCERNS YOU.

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Posted by Amit Varma on 16 August, 2007 in Economics | Essays and Op-Eds | Freedom | India | Politics | Thinking it Through


What if Sardar Patel had been our first PM?

I had once mused on the prospect of Ramachandra Guha writing a counter-factual history that examined how India would have progressed if C Rajagopalachari had been India’s first prime minister instead of Jawaharlal Nehru. Guha was perhaps too busy writing the wonderful India After Gandhi, but Nitin Pai pointed me today to an excellent article by Ashok Desai that examines what would have happened had Sardar Vallabhai Patel been India’s first PM. An excerpt:

[I]t is fair to assume that a Patel government would have dismantled the import controls inherited from the War, and would not have introduced industrial licensing. During the War, India supplied a large volume of goods and services to Britain, which ran up a huge debt in the form of sterling balances. These were inconvertible into dollars because Britain had bought even more from the US without paying for it. But India could have used them to import anything from the Commonwealth — for instance, wheat from Australia, and machinery from Britain. India ran up an export surplus during the Korean War; it had so much foreign currency in 1950 that almost everything was on Open General Licence — that is, almost everything could be imported without a licence. So if the government had not launched the forced industrialization programme of 1956, if it had not wasted the sterling balances on building steel and heavy engineering plants, it could have maintained an open import regime throughout.

The major beneficiary of such a regime would have been industry. The control regime forced it to replace imports at exorbitant cost. Its high costs made it internationally uncompetitive and limited its exports. Its uncompetitiveness, together with the fixed-exchange-rate regime that prevailed throughout the world till 1970, made high protection necessary; the protection made industry even more uncompetitive. China made use of its labour to become the frontrunner in industrialization in the Nineties; India could have become the frontrunner in the Sixties. It would have run ahead of those little nations — South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Malaysia — which left it behind. In particular, it would have led the world in textiles. Textiles came in the Sixties to be dominated by synthetic fibres; and synthetic fibres became a major branch of petrochemicals. Japan came to dominate this industry; it could have been India instead.

As my friend Madhu likes to say, “Should have, could have, would have, didn’t.” Sigh. The last para of Desai’s piece is so true, and so depressing.

PS: Needless to say, in his piece Desai used the word ‘liberal’ in its classical liberal, pro-freedom sense, and not in its modern Leftist anti-freedom sense. I wish the word had never been hijacked!

Posted by Amit Varma on 15 August, 2007 in Economics | Freedom | India | Politics


A rising tide, and leaky boats

Raju Narisetti writes in Mint:

In the daily hurry-up and wait rituals in front of rickety elevators that take us to our high-rise offices, I ask how such a vast and wise nation can create and accept self-inflicted bottlenecks of thought and action. After all, India can’t cross this river in two or three steps. I also note that a rising tide won’t lift leaky boats. So, I ask, shouldn’t our government focus on fixing the boats instead of constantly trying to control the tide?

Indeed, if it just allowed us to fix our own leaky boats, that would be enough.

Posted by Amit Varma on 12 August, 2007 in India | Politics


In the name of Islam

Ranjit Hoskote, Naresh Fernandes and Jerry Pinto have drafted an eloquent letter protesting the attack on Taslima Nasreen that they have sent out to a few newspapers. I’ve received a copy as well, and it’s reproduced in full below, as I agree entirely with the sentiment they express:

Dear Editor,

We write to condemn, in the strongest terms, the physical assault on Taslima Nasreen in Hyderabad last week, by political activists claiming to act in the name of Islam. Such violence can have no place in a liberal democracy, which guarantees the holders of all shades of opinion the right to express themselves in a peaceful and reasonable manner. The activists of the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) have not only violated the contract of democratic citizenship, but have also done Islam a great injustice. The threat, issued by some representatives of the MIM, to “behead” Ms Nasreen if she should visit Hyderabad again, is particularly odious. The Islamic faith has been far better served by philosophers like Ibn Rushd and Ibn Sina, and by Sufis like Rumi and Attar, than by the bloodthirsty adventurers who have used its standard to further their personal ambitions.

We also deplore the attitude of the police, which has charged Ms Nasreen with inciting communal disharmony through her writing, as an example of the most misplaced even-handedness on the part of the authorities.

Ranjit Hoskote
Naresh Fernandes
Jerry Pinto
The Pen All-India Centre

Needless to say, if the attack had been made by a bunch of hoodlums unaffiliated to any political party, the cops would no doubt have taken strong action against them. As I wrote in my piece, “Mobs are above the law,” political protest has been sanctified by the law in India. So has protest under the guise of defending one’s religion, as if any religion was so brittle as to need such defense.

It’s ironic that a case has been filed against Taslima, for “promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion.” It reminds me of the Baroda incident, where it was the painter under attack by a similar extremist mob who found himself in jail. (My posts on that incident: 1, 2, 3, 4.)

The footage of the attack on Taslima is below the fold:

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Posted by Amit Varma on 12 August, 2007 in Freedom | India | Politics


The Republic of Apathy

This essay of mine was published today in the Independence Day special issue of Lounge, the weekend edition of Mint, as “Those Songs of Freedom.”

Just thinking of it sends a chill up my spine. On 12 March 1930, at the Sabarmati Ashram in Gujarat, 79 men went for a walk. For 23 days they marched, covering four districts, 48 villages, 400 kilometres. On the way they picked up thousands of other ordinary people, animated by a cause so much bigger than themselves. Then, on 6 April, by the sea at the coastal village of Dandi, Mahatma Gandhi picked up a handful of salty earth and said, “With this, I am shaking the foundations of the British Empire.” 

The empire shook. The purpose of Gandhi’s march was to protest the oppressive and unfair salt tax, and across the country people joined the battle. They made their own salt. They bought illegal salt. That year, 60,000 Indians were arrested during these protests. The Salt Law was not repealed. And yet, “the first stage in ... the final struggle of freedom,” as Gandhi described it, had made an impact.

More than 77 years have passed. We have been free of the British empire for 60 of them. If we were to get inside a time machine, go back to 1930, pull in some of the men and women who marched to Dandi, and bring them to this present time, how would they react? Would they think that they were finally in the India that they had fought to achieve? 

Or would they set off on another walk?

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Posted by Amit Varma on 11 August, 2007 in Economics | Essays and Op-Eds | Freedom | India | Old memes | Taxes | Politics


Are ideologies just a rationalisation…

... for the lust for power? Hans J. Morgenthau once wrote, in Politics Among Nations:

While all politics is necessarily pursuit of power, ideologies render involvement in that contest for power psychologically and morally acceptable to the actors and their audience. (Ideologies) are either ultimate goals of political action… or… pretexts and false fronts behind which the element of power, inherent in all politics, is concealed. They may fulfil one or the other function, or they may fulfil both at the same time. The nation that dispensed with ideologies and frankly stated it wanted power would… find itself at a great and perhaps decisive disadvantage in the struggle for power.

I found this at the start of an excellent piece in today’s Mint by my buddy Nitin Pai, “Why we must export our Islam.” Do read.

PS: The edit pages of Mint have much to read today. The main edit reprises the theme of my column yesterday, and speaks of how “Indian cricket will benefit from market competition.” And S Mitra Kalita writes in her column, “As we revel in India’s freedom next week, it would not be hyperbole to suggest that British imperialism has been replaced by something just as disturbing and powerful…”

I have an essay coming out tomorrow that elaborates on just that theme. Watch this space.

Posted by Amit Varma on 10 August, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Excerpts | India | Politics


Why Progressives Aren’t Progressive

Don Boudreaux begins his latest column thus:

My son, Thomas, 10, sometimes amuses himself with a game he calls “Opposite.” Whenever he is struck by the fancy to play this game, he announces to my wife and me that all that he says during the next several minutes will be the opposite of what he really means.

“Mommy is ugly” really means “Mommy is beautiful.” “I’m stuffed!” means “I’m hungry.” To indicate that he’d prefer to play rather than do his homework, Thomas declares that, by all means, he wants to do his homework immediately.

Too often when I read newspapers or encounter government in action I feel as though pundits and politicians are playing “Opposite” with me. Except, unlike with my son, these people genuinely hope to dupe me with their verbal stratagems.

An especially galling “Opposite” in the political sphere is the use of the term “Progressive.” Enemies of individual freedom and responsibility, and of the economic dynamism characteristic only of capitalism, routinely call themselves “Progressives.”

Read the full piece, it’s quite excellent.

As you know, there are similar issues with the word ‘liberal.’ Sigh.

Posted by Amit Varma on 09 August, 2007 in Economics | Freedom | Politics


The worldview of the next American president…

... is reflected here.

This is immensely distressing, for I don’t feel comfortable about any of those candidates—I disagree with all of them in at least three or four areas. If I was American, I’d be rather depressed at the choices laid out before me. Being in India, of course, I have plenty to complain about anyway.

(Link via email from Gaurav Sabnis, who also has much to say about P Sainath.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 08 August, 2007 in Politics


Compassion

Quote of the month:

In political life today, you are considered compassionate if you demand that government impose your preferences on others.

That’s John Stossel starting off a wonderful piece titled “Good News: The World Gets Better.” Read the full piece—indeed, read all his pieces. He’s such a good writer that I hate him. Immense jealousy erupts.

And to get back to the subject of compassion, do read “The Devil’s Compassion.”

Posted by Amit Varma on 07 August, 2007 in Economics | Politics


Whatever happened to ‘liberal’?

Quiz question for my readers (not posted in Workoutable because it’s guessable but not workoutable) coming up. X was recently asked to define a liberal, and gave this answer:

You know, it is a word that originally meant that you were for freedom ... that you were willing to stand against big power and on behalf of the individual. Unfortunately, in the last 30, 40 years, it has been turned up on its head, and it’s been made to seem as though it is a word that describes big government, totally contrary to what its meaning was in the 19th and early 20th century.

I prefer the word ‘progressive,’ which has a real American meaning, going back to the progressive era at the beginning of the 20th century. I consider myself a modern progressive.

Identify X.

Clue: I only ask this question because of the irony in the quoted statement—I agree with its sentiment, and myself bemoan the changed meaning of ‘liberal,’ but the person saying these words is, well, as much a ‘big-government liberal’ as you can find.

For the answer, read Jonah Goldberg’s excellent piece, “Why ‘liberal’ doesn’t quite fit.”

For my thoughts on the subject, read “A Liberal Complaint.”

Posted by Amit Varma on 07 August, 2007 in Freedom | Politics


Revolution in the USA?

Scott Adams speculates on what could lead to one.

India, anyone? Is there a nightmare scenario in which our people would rise up?

Actually, nah. Most of us are too apathetic, no matter what happens.

(Link via email from Sanjeev.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 02 August, 2007 in Politics


Sex and patriotism

The Daily Mail reports:

Remember the mammoths, say the clean-cut organisers at the youth camp’s mass wedding. “They became extinct because they did not have enough sex. That must not happen to Russia”.

Obediently, couples move to a special section of dormitory tents arranged in a heart-shape and called the Love Oasis, where they can start procreating for the motherland.

With its relentlessly upbeat tone, bizarre ideas and tight control, it sounds like a weird indoctrination session for a phoney religious cult.

But this organisation - known as “Nashi”, meaning “Ours” - is youth movement run by Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin that has become a central part of Russian political life.

There’s an idea there for the RSS, which keeps complaining, rather bizarrely, that Muslims procreate too much. Well, dudes, organise camps, get some Hindu boys and girls together, and encourage them to tango. Time for the moral police to change its strategy!

(Link via email from Gautam Bastian.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 02 August, 2007 in India | Politics


And Justice For All?

While it’s a matter of great satisfaction that the perpetrators on the 1993 blasts have finally been sentenced, it is also a matter of great shame that the wrongdoers of the riots just before that, which killed three times as many people, remain unpunished. Naresh from Time Out points me to an online petition that protests this. I’ve added my signature—what about you?

Posted by Amit Varma on 02 August, 2007 in India | Politics


Mommy-Daddy, go away!

This is the 25th installment of my weekly column for Mint, Thinking it Through.

One of my favourite quotes about politics is this one from David Boaz: “Conservatives want to be your daddy, telling you what to do and what not to do. Liberals want to be your mommy, feeding you, tucking you in, and wiping your nose. Libertarians want to treat you as an adult.”

This was said in an American context, and the liberals referred to are the Leftist ‘liberals’ of America, not the classical liberals who believe in individual freedom. It would be tempting to apply this quote to India, and to point to the religious right, with their moral policing and disregard for free speech, as the Daddy among us, and the socialist left, with their belief in big government and fantasies of a welfare state, as the Mommy.

But the truth is more complex and much sadder. Our government, regardless of the political party in charge, has always tried to play the role of both Mommy and Daddy. Like infants, we acquiesce.

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Posted by Amit Varma on 02 August, 2007 in Economics | Essays and Op-Eds | Freedom | India | Politics | Thinking it Through


S Ramadoss’s wishlist

PMK biggie S Ramadoss is an ambitious man. Why ask for the moon when galaxies abound? At a recent rally in Vellore, he made the following demands of “the youth of Tamil Nadu”:

1. Give up “cinema culture” and “instead form groups to fight social problems like dowry death.”

2. “Fight for prohibition.”

3. Save the Palar river.

4. Plant more trees.

5. Give up smoking.

6. Give up drinking.

7. Don’t use drugs.

Phew. I’m sure many ‘youths’ in the audience must have gone, “Hey, I’ve never thought about these things before! I’ve been enlightened now! I will plant a tree right away!”

Such joy.

Posted by Amit Varma on 01 August, 2007 in India | News | Politics


Don’t break the mirror

The Information and Broadcasting ministry, Rediff tells us, in planning a content code for Indian television. The report says:

The draft content code ... plans to restrict TV channels from stereotyping women as passive or submissive so as to promote or glorify their subordinate or secondary role in the society.

Reader Praveen Krishnan, who sent me the link, writes, “I suppose we will be seeing Tulsi and Kkusum in leather and bondage gear from now on. Surely that is dominant enough?”

Frankly, seeing Smriti Irani intone grandiosely in Viruddh with a glint in her eye is enough to make a man rush to a corner, get into a foetal position and start bawling. No, but flippancy aside, this is the silliest idea I’ve heard in a long time, though it’s quite what you’d expect from the government mai-baaps who refuse to treat us as adults.

To repeat a cliche, art often just holds up a mirror to society. Breaking the mirror won’t change the ugly mug in front of it. And we need that mirror. No one should mess with it.

Posted by Amit Varma on 30 July, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Freedom | India | Media | Politics


38 Ways To Win An Argument—Arthur Schopenhauer

For all of you who have ever been involved in an online debate in any way, Arthur Schopenhauer’s “38 Ways To Win An Argument” is indispensable. Most of these techniques will seem familiar to you, right from questioning the motive of a person making the argument instead of the argument itself (No. 35), exaggerating the propositions stated by the other person (No. 1) , misrepresenting the other person’s words (No. 2) and attacking a straw man instead (No. 3). It’s a full handbook of intellectual dishonesty there. Indeed, I generally avoid online debates because they inevitably degenerate to No. 38.

The full text is below the fold. Many thanks to my friend Nitin Pai for reintroducing me to it.

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Posted by Amit Varma on 28 July, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | IU Faves | Blogging | Politics


The Regional Parties Bachao Front

Should political parties need licenses to stand for elections? Barbad Katte uses this seemingly absurd proposal to parody the CPI-M’s dangerous idea of throttling competition in organized retail. Why do I say “seemingly absurd?” Well, because the registration system currently in place for political parties is barrier enough for poor SV Raju.

The greatest satire of protectionism, of course, is Frédéric Bastiat‘s magnificent Candlemaker’s Petition. Here’s the text of that.

Posted by Amit Varma on 25 July, 2007 in Economics | Freedom | India | Politics


On cleavage

Robin Givhan of the Washington Post has written a piece on, of all subjects, Hillary Clinton’s cleavage. An excerpt:

Showing cleavage is a request to be engaged in a particular way. It doesn’t necessarily mean that a woman is asking to be objectified, but it does suggest a certain confidence and physical ease. It means that a woman is content being perceived as a sexual person in addition to being seen as someone who is intelligent, authoritative, witty and whatever else might define her personality. It also means that she feels that all those other characteristics are so apparent and undeniable, that they will not be overshadowed.

I’m sure feminist bloggers will have a lot to say about this, and I’ll avoid comment simply so that I don’t get into trouble. All I can say is that I’m a huge fan of cleavage, regardless of the motives behind its display. Cleavage makes the world a better place.

And that reminds me of this.

Now just wait for the New York Times to do a story on Barack Obama’s cleavage. The coverage of these elections…

(Link via email from Gautam John, who got there via Daily Kos.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 21 July, 2007 in Miscellaneous | Personal | Politics


“A milch-cow with 125 million teats”

Check out this delightful paragraph from Paul Johnson’s A History of the American People:

[HL] Mencken excelled himself in attacking the triumphant FDR, whose whiff of fraudulent collectivism filled him with genuine disgust. He was the ‘Fuhrer,’ the ‘Quack,’ surrounded by ‘an astonishing rabble of impudent nobodies,’ ‘a gang of half-educated pedagogues, non-constitutional lawyers, starry-eyed uplifters and other such sorry wizards.’ His New Deal was ‘a political racket,’ a ‘series of stupendous bogus miracles,’ with its ‘constant appeals to class envy and hatred,’ treating government as ‘a milch cow with 125 million teats’ and marked by ‘frequent repudiations of categorical pledges.’ The only consequence was that Mencken himself forfeited his influence with anyone under 30, and was himself denounced in turn as a polecat, a Prussian, a British toady, a howling hyena, a parasite, a mangy mongrel, an affected ass, an unsavory creature, putrid of soul, a public nuisance, a literary stink-pot, a mountebank, a rantipole, a vain hysteric, an outcast, a literary renegade, and a trained elephant who wrote the gibberish of an imbecile.

Sounds like the blogosphere, doesn’t it? Mencken was a remarkable writer, though his entire ouvre is almost impossible to read—According to Johnson, he “produced over 10 million words of journalism” and “wrote over 100,000 letters (between 60 and 125 per working day).” What a blogger he would have made!

And that milch-cow analogy is superb. In India, there are more than a billion teats.

Also see: Amity Shlaes’s essay on the New Deal, “The Real Deal.”

Posted by Amit Varma on 20 July, 2007 in Economics | Freedom | Journalism | Politics


Uncle Sam and India

What attitude will the next US president have towards India? The Council of Foreign Relations helps us get a better grip on that with a summary of each presidential candidate’s stance on India policy.

It’s a worthy effort, but I’d have enjoyed a higher level of detail. Also, policies that affect India are not just those that deal directly with India, like immigration reform or outsourcing. Issues like farm subsidies and their middle-east policy also affect us deeply, and to effectively map out which presidential candidate would be best for India, one needs to go past superficial bromides by candidates on how India is a “natural ally” and has a “large market” and so on. Also, it would be a good idea to look at not just their recent statements but also their past records—voting record at the senate, or as a governor, and so on—to see what they truly believe in.

Still, this is a good idea, and a fair beginning. I hope that page evolves.

Posted by Amit Varma on 20 July, 2007 in India | Politics


The hypocrisy of the Left

Reader Ila Bhat writes in:

When Salil Tripathi says this:

the clueless British Left, which has such a deep bias against the United States and Israel that it ends up making common cause and an intellectually dishonest alliance with Muslim groups that are anti-women, anti-gay, and far from being progressive, articulate extreme positions.

... he could well be talking about Karat and company, no?

Quite.

Posted by Amit Varma on 20 July, 2007 in India | Politics


Celebrating Pratibha Patil

This is the 23rd installment of my weekly column for Mint, Thinking it Through.

If you are an Indian, your heart should swell up with nationalistic pride today – and perhaps even explode. India elects a president as you read this, and it is likely to be Pratibha Patil. There has been much talk in the media about how she is unfit for that post, an opinion I have also expressed. But now I have seen the light. I was wrong.

Competence and intellect are optional attributes for a post that only has ceremonial value. Our president represents India to the world, and should be someone who people can take one look at and say, “Ah, so India is like that!” For various reasons, Pratibha Tai embodies much of India in her slender frame.

Consider, first, her spirituality. We are a spiritual nation, and Pratibha Tai actually converses with spirits. When she was nominated for the presidency, she revealed that she had been told by an enlightened soul that she was destined for bigger things.

“I had a pleasant experience,” she told an audience at Mt. Abu, where she had gone to meet a lady named Hridaymohini aka Dadiji, who runs a “World Spiritual University”. She had chatted with a gentleman named Dada Lekhraj, who died in 1969 but has presumably hung around since. “Dadiji ke shareer mein baba aye,” she told the audience. (“Baba came in Dadiji’s body.”) This, you will notice with pride, also has a touch of the erotic about it, which is quite appropriate in the land of Khajuraho and the Kama Sutra.

There are many advantages of having a president who can speak to spirits. She can chat with Gandhiji (Mahatma, not Sonia) over breakfast, and let us know his views on the world and Lage Raho Munnabhai. If George W Bush comes visiting, she can impress him by chatting with Saddam Hussein and asking him where those WMDs are. (“Dadiji je shareer mein Saddam aye.”) And so on. Lucky Dadiji.

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Posted by Amit Varma on 19 July, 2007 in Essays and Op-Eds | India | Politics | Thinking it Through


WTF site of the day

Name my vote!

If there was such a site for India, there wouldn’t two options, but 86. Or suchlike.

(Link via email from Ojas Sabnis.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 17 July, 2007 in Politics | WTF


Libertarians and the Iraq War

Gautam emailed a while earlier to point me to a piece by Randy Barnett in the Wall Street Journal on how libertarians were divided by the Iraq War. It reminded me of an excellent post by Don Boudreaux on Cafe Hayek in which he nailed it:

Libertarians properly don’t trust government to run our pension plans, to deliver health care, to educate our children, or to provide disaster relief. Why be so trusting of government to wage war?

Much to my embarrassment now, I supported the Iraq War when it happened. If every intelligence agency in the world believed Iraq had WMD, I figured that must be credible. Removing the evil regime of the monstrous Saddam Hussein would also be a great benefit. The thought of democracy in the middle east also made me happy. Well, naive, stupid me.

I changed my mind on the war once it became apparent how badly the Americans handled the aftermath, with their inflexibility and arrogance exacerbating their serious strategic errors. Given how government functions, how it is essentially just a collection of people with the wrong incentives spending other people’s money, how could I possibly have expected otherwise?

I’m not an American citizen or taxpayer, so it may seem that I don’t have to bear the costs of the war. (I don’t mean merely the monetary ones.) But I am—as are you, I would imagine—on the same side as them on the War on Terror, and their screw-ups affect us all. There are no islands, as John Donne might have said.

Posted by Amit Varma on 17 July, 2007 in Freedom | Politics


“The western culture of sexual relation”

Somebody please tell me what this quote means:

I think the government wants to import the western culture of sexual relation between student relation to India.

That’s Murli Manohar Joshi, speaking out against sex education in Indian schools in a report by Chetan Chauhan of the Hindustan Times. More from the report:

He [Joshi] said introduction of sex education was what multinationals did to create the desire for sex among teenagers to sell their products. “It is not sex education. It is education to sell condoms,” he alleged.

In a similar vein, Joshi is quoted as saying in another report:

The whole concept of such a syllabus is aimed at creating market for global brands of MNCs and would result in global domination.

At least there is one thing that unites the loonies on the Left and Right of our political spectrum—an irrational and self-serving hatred of MNCs. There’s really not that much difference between Prakash Karat and Murli Manohar Joshi. (I know both of them would feel insulted by this comparison, which adds to my pleasure at making it.)

(Link via elbow-nudge from Rahul.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 16 July, 2007 in India | Politics | WTF


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