Saturday 26 February 2011

Will India’s “Culture of Immunity” end? (PO)

M D Nalapat

While politicians in India often talk about the prevalence of the “black” ( ie illegal) economy in India, especially when they are in opposition and not accessing the vast funds they used to get while in power, the reality is that the root of “black money” in India is politics. While a Mahatma Gandhi was able to persuade tens of millions of Indians to sacrifice their jobs and their fortunes to follow him in his numerous jabs against British rule,since the 1970s, those in politics expect to get compensated for their efforts,and the higher the loot,the more the rush to get on board a particular bandwagon. In urban areas,unless at least Rs 500 is paid to an individual, she or he will refuse to attend a political rally. A few months ago, two politicians in Maharashtra were discussing before an open microphone the high cost of arranging crowds to cheer Congress President Sonia Gandhi. Huge sums were mentioned in this connection,it being a given that a Sonia rally has to have tens of thousands of attendees, so that television cameras could pan the throng and give testimony to the immense popularity of the current owner of the Congress Party. That the crowds shown on television are usually expressionless - if not openly bored and fidgety - seldom gets mentioned in the media, which hungers for the access only favourable coverage assures.

Saturday 19 February 2011

Will Manmohan fall in March? (PO)

M D Nalapat

The Ides of March proved fatal to Gaius Julius Ceasar more than two thousand years ago, when he was felled by a large group of conspirators in the Theatre of Pompey in Rome. Several of those that stabbed him were his closest friends, people who may have been expected to defend rather than to murder him. These days, within Delhi and Mumbai, a similar group of conspirators has been active over the past eleven months, seeking to take away not his life but his job from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. And as in the case of Ceasar, many of those scripting his downfall are from his own party, and claim to be his ardent backers, often going before television cameras to “damn him with faint praise”.

Deja vu! A quarter-century ago, many of the same group that are nowadays active against Manmohan Singh were expending considerable effort on unseating his mentor, then Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao. The Congress Party’s second non-Nehru Prime Minister (after the short-lived 1964-66 tenure of Lal Bahadur Shastri had incurred the anger of loyalists of the family that owned the party, by his refusal to step down after two years in office and hand over charge to a faithful retainer, Kunwar (Prince) Arjun Singh, who had been Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh when the Bhopal disaster took place, and who made arrangements for the safe escape of Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson from Bhopal. Despite the fact that it was on his watch that the world’s biggest industrial disaster took place, his 100% loyalty to the Nehru family ensured that Arjun Singh was given his fill of important jobs, ranging from chief ministership to Union Cabinet status and also Governor of important states.

Saturday 12 February 2011

uper speculators cause Egypt collapse (PO)

M D Nalapat

After nearly three decades of faithfully serving the interests of the NATO powers, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak may have been forgiven for believing that the alliance would stand by him in his moment of mortal peril. Most of the huge assets that he has accumulated over the years (perhaps by thriftily saving his salary) are in Egypt, and while his immediate family have the means to run away from the country over which they have ruled for so long, the bulk of his friends and relatives will be left behind, to face the anger of the populace. And seeing the speed with which the NATO powers have distanced themselves from him and the system that Mubarak and they jointly created and administered for their mutual benefit, it may not be long before the 83-year old gets arraigned for human rights violations and be made to face trial in the International Court. He would not be the first Third World leader to be thus thrown to the wolves by those who are clear that only their interest matters, and not that of the rest of the world, in any situation. Indeed, the NATO powers consider themselves to be the world, or the “international community”, as CNN or BBC calls them.

Amazingly, none of these or other news channels has identified the small group of individuals who are directly responsible for much of the unrest sweeping across Egypt. While CNN,BBC and even Al Jazeera ( whose newsrooms are filled with personnel from the NATO powers, as indeed are the key positions in almost all countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council) focus mainly on educated, “sophisticated” voices that clamour for “freedom and democracy”, the reality is that it is economic hardship that has brought hundreds of thousands of ordinary Egyptians to Tahrir Square. Much of this pain has been caused by the huge increase in food prices across the world.

If one were to rely on BBC or CNN for information, you would be told that the high prices have been caused by “supply disruptions”, which i turn has been caused ( or so we are told) by “freak weather conditions”. Indeed, there have been floods and storms. But this has been the case for centuries, if not millenia. The reality is that more than 80% of the rise in price has been caused by Speculation. The same small, super-greedy band of international speculators who almost destroyed the world’s finances by their greed in 2008,are back in action, this time cornering foodstuffs so as to send prices skyrocketing.

Those bankers and others who fund such ghouls are the ones who need to be haule into prison for “human rights abuses”. Instead, they are given not just honour and respect by President Obama of the US and Prime Minister David Cameron of the UK, but more than $1 trillion in subsidy, to rescue them from the economic consequences of their own crimes. Those who preach “transparency” and “accountability” to the world are silent when it comes to their own deliberate failure in bringing to justice the handful of those who stole more than $3 trillion from investors worldwide. Indeed, in the US, the new Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, is as much a handmaiden of speculators as was his predecessor, Hank Paulson.

Although President Nicholas Sarkozy of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany have called for changes in the laws so as to curb the speculation and profiteering that caused the 2008 financial collapse, this needed corrective has been opposed by President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron, who seem to value the private interests of a handful of super-greedy individuals more than they do the interests of the global community. Fed by huge taxpayer-funded subsidies, the dozen-odd financial conglomerates that were responsible for the 2008 meltdown are again at work, once again sending the prices of oil, copper, foodstuffs and other items shooting up. This they do by manipulating market prices, free of any fear of adverse consequences, given the servility that countries such as the US and the UK have shown to them since the era of Reagan-Thatcher in the 1980s. Under Reagan-Thatcher, the making of money in any way possible was glorified, hence the boom in the financial industry since that period. While in the case of China under Deng Xiaoping, money was made by increasing production and employment, in the case of the US and the UK, money was made out of holding back production, downsizing or destroying enterprises and dizzy speculation. Such greed reached its high point during the George W Bush period, when a company that was close to Vice-President Dick Cheney became the largest corporate beneficiary of the Iraq war Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W Bush, Tony Blair. Since their time, speculators have become the kingpins in the world financial system. Not content with sending up the price of oil, they have focussed on Poor Country Debt (draining hundreds of millions of dollars from very poor with the help of certain NATO countries) and the staples of consumption of the poor. Because of the price increases in petroproducts that are speculator-driven, growth has slowed down in China and India, and as a consequence, hundreds of millions have suffered in just these two countries.

Because of the speculative rise in food prices, several billion people have suffered, while many have even died of starvation caused by higher food prices. Tens of millions more (including many in the NATO countries that are the home of the Super-Speculators) have lost their jobs because of the financial and economic dislocation caused by the uncontrolled speculation that is cheered on by both the US as well as the UK authorities.

It suits the Super Speculators to pretend that the problems in Egypt are caused by the “thirst for democracy” of the people there. The reality is that it is the thirst for food and for jobs that have driven more than 95% of the protestors towards the daily marches and rallies that are taking place in Egypt against the Mubarak regime. Why there are no prorestors in the UAE or in Kuwait is because the governments there have provided food and jobs to the local people, thereby ensuring stability. However, even they may face problems, if uncontrolled speculation continues in items of mass relevance (such as petroproducts) or consumption (such as foodgrains). Once again, the crimes of the few will lead to misery for the many.

China, India and other emerging powers need to raise a collective voice agains the Super Speculators. They need to shame the US and the UK into enacting laws that criminalize the efforts at withdrawing supplies from the market in order to boost prices, and that make punishable the cornering of commodities by intermediaries intent ony on fianancial windfalls. Hosni Mubarak is of a different cut from Gamal Abdel Nasser, who lived a simple life and never allowed his family to make money. Unlike Mubarak, who follows Thatcher and Cheney in looking after only the interests of the super rich, Nasser cared for the poor. It is ironical that it is the same super rich who have felled Mubarak with their speculative ravaging of commodity markets.

Should the US and the UK continue to permit speculators to push up the prices of essential commodities, the world will witness such turmoil that the core interests of even the US and the UK would be affected. Presumably, the Super Speculators will not care, so long as they themselves are safe. Greed has become King.

Saturday 5 February 2011

Economic chaos spreads in India (PO)

M D Nalapat

Banks that will not lend to companies even at very high rates of interest, because bank officers are wary of being questioned by the police about such loans. Multiple tax raids across the country on those not having VVIP protection, most of which end up getting compounded after the payment of bribes to the officers concerned. A mushrooming of regulations in each field of economic activity, so that the avenues for corruption get increased. Extreme incompetence on the part of governmental agencies, often deliberate. Targeted speculation in food grains and vegetables, that send retail prices shooting up while denying the farmer any benefit from such increases. A handful of big business interests who have free access to VVIPs and who can get appointed their agents to ministerships and to senior administrative appointments. This is the India of 2011,a country that must be bringing tears to the eyes of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is facing sabotage within his own team, designed to make him unviable as in his present job.

Weeks ago, the mountain of speculaion about a thoroughgoing reshuffle of the Union Cabinet produced a mouse. The corrupt were rewarded rather than dropped. To take the example of Vilasrao Deshmukh, during whose tenure as Chief Minister of Maharashtra more than 30,000 farmers committed suicide. Despite the severe strictures passed on him by the Supreme Court, which pointed out that he favoured moneylenders rather than farmers, the Prime Minister was forced by the leadership of the Congress Party to give Deshmukh the portfolio that controls the administration of rural India, presumably so that he can make a dent in the population explosion by presiding over mass suicides of farmers, this time on an all-India scale. Of course, it is no secret that Deshmukh has been one of the most generous contributors to the financial kitty of the Congress Party. Friends in Mumbai often talked about huge suitcases filled with “ mangoes” that would be sent every few days from Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur to Delhi by chartered flights, so as to keep Deshmukh’s chair safe despite his having made Maharashtra one of the worst-administered states in the Indian Union.