Sunday 26 April 2015

Manmohan’s Break Industry to Modi’s Make in India (Sunday Guardian)

M.D Nalapat is the Editorial Director of The Sunday Guardian.

A tax structure needs to be created that focuses on growth, for only high rates of growth will generate a stronger stream of revenue.

PM Narendra Modi
Minimum Government and Maximum Governance" was the battle cry of Candidate Modi during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, and it resonated with a populace that has tired of enduring an official machinery steeped in the colonial tradition of control and confiscation. Recently, several existing laws have been sent where they belong, to the graveyard, but almost all of these are edicts which have very little to do with the lives of ordinary citizens. What needs to get flung into the wastebasket are major laws, each made for the purpose of creating obstructions to productive activity, so that at each such chokepoint, bribes get collected and decision-makers in government enriched. For those with black money, navigating the system is easy, but for the honest, the obstacles are usually too many to be overcome. Every year should have seen a new Wipro or an HCL or an Infosys come up, but looking at the past decade, all that is discernible are the skeletons of startups, which were based on brilliant ideas but which perished as a consequence of administrative obstacles to their functioning.
An example is the proposal that every citizen going abroad detail every item of his or her expenses and the source of funding. An academic who goes abroad to give lectures or to attend conferences could, for example, be questioned on just how he or she paid for the lunches and dinners taken, and hence would need to record the names, addresses and contact details of every person who hosted a tea or a cab ride. As it is, holding a conference in India has become difficult because of the need to get prior sanction of the MEA and the MHA. Now even attending meetings abroad will be an obstacle race with the tax authorities.
A surer way of ensuring that revenue loopholes get plugged would be to scrutinise high value exports and find out whether the prices got bear any relationship to similar exports made from other sources, or if the goods have been exported to shell companies which immediately resell the same at much higher prices. As for imports, it could easily be checked whether such imports are at a price that is above those charged to customers in other countries. In the Indian case, we have as an example the purchase of aircraft by certain airlines at prices much higher than that charged for the same model to other airline companies operating in the country. By going after hundreds of thousands of cases rather than concentrating on the few hundred which generate over 90% of the illicit money made through foreign exchange fraud, officials in India are resorting to the familiar method of releasing large quantities of chaff (by widening the net in an absurd manner, as with the foreign visit details) so as to enable big depredators to escape.
Who can forget such measures as the Fringe Benefits Tax or the tax on ESOPs, which collects tax based on a value that may never be seen in practice? This tax, as many others such as Service Tax, mandate that payment be made in short order to the tax authorities, often even before any income has been received. Once such an advance collection of tax be made in the case of GST (which has been pegged at a very high level), several more SMEs and even much bigger enterprises will go bankrupt.
The obsession of several in government remains the squeezing out of money from the citizen. Instead, a tax structure needs to get created that focuses on growth, for only high rates of growth will generate a stronger stream of revenue. The principal reason why the direct tax base of India is so low is that few now on the outside wish to enter into a system where arbitrariness is the norm, and where such guarantors of financial ruin and insolvency as 300% penalties plus of course interest are routine. After the Vodafone imbroglio, there has been no greenfield investment in telecom from abroad, and after Cairn, there is unlikely to be much interest in the offshore energy sector, while the (tax-induced) demise of Nokia or Posco in India is a cautionary tale to those looking at setting up manufacturing facilities.
India is the only democracy in the world where tax raids take place on the flimsiest of grounds, and which last for days (and nights). Unlike during the Vajpayee government, when valuables and cash found were returned after an inventory was made, since Circa Chidambaram such items are taken away. From Saral to the present version of the income-tax form, as yet too few of the regulatory and fiscal tortures and lunacies introduced during the Manmohan Singh era have been reversed. If investors are to be incentivised to make in India, rather than get broken by the administrative system as they have been thus far, policies need to be implemented that make the economy grow by freeing citizens of the death grip of a colonial-minded bureaucracy, which has smothered a vibrant people. Nothing less than changes relevant to the 21st century are expected from a government brought to office on the promise of comprehensive change.

Indian industry to PM: Build giants at home (Sunday Guardian)

MADHAV NALAPAT  New Delhi | 25th Apr 2015
How that his year of On the Job Training (OJT) on an "India Model" designed to replicate the success of the Gujarat Model across the nation is getting over, domestic industry is looking forward to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his economic team reversing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's policy of "killing" domestic industry and shedding jobs. What they seek are measures that would instead ensure the "skilling" of companies and the recruitment of more personnel. Within a couple of years of the UPA coming to power, the momentum achieved during the period since 1992 was lost, as the focus of the government shifted exclusively to the mechanical collection of revenue, that too through methods which inhibited rather than boosted growth in domestic industry. A combination of punitive taxation, extensive and unproductive regulation, broken-down administration and high interest rates led to a reversal of domestic business mood during the latter two-thirds of the UPA period from confidence to despair. From 2009 to 2013, there have been 13 interest rate increases by RBI, which under its present leadership has supervised a monetary regimen that has made much of industry financially unviable, especially in the small and medium scale sector, where the bulk of jobs are located. Added to that is the constant harassment by bribe-seeking officers from multiple departments and agencies of the state, with the number of regulations and the severity of penalties sharply increased since 2004.
India is the only country (with the possible exception of North Korea) that reflexively taxes a producer of goods and services even before any income has been realised. Should service tax, for example, not be paid within seven days of a bill being raised, jail could be the result, while the actual payment for the service may come after months, and in some cases never get made at all. In the case of another P. Chidambaram monstrosity (which still continues), the levy on employee stock options, tax gets collected in advance of any income accruing from the shares, and at a valuation which may soon have zero relevance to reality. Of course, any fall in share value will not result in a refund, just as the absence of payments for a service will not result in a return of the tax collected. Even in the case of refunds, the Chidambaram era saw the rate of interest paid to the taxpayer get halved to 6%. Overall, little seems to have changed in the attitude of those manning the administration to the people they rule over since 1915, the year when Edwin Lutyens completed his master plan for the colonial capital into which the successors of the British moved with alacrity after 1947.
Will Prime Minister Modi ensure that taxes get paid only when income gets generated and not before? Otherwise, in the forthcoming GST regimen taxpayers are bracing for the 25% of expected income to be paid as tax in advance of getting payment for goods and services. Banks will be called upon to fund the gap between service and payment, and in case the latter gets delayed or is blocked, loans will go bad, as several have during the RBI's high interest rate regimen. Some independent estimates place the value of bad loans of the organised banking sector in India at nearly Rs 600,000 crore, a direct consequence of the "Killing Industry" policies prevalent during the decade under Manmohan Singh. A host of assessments and audits have been mandated, such as both audit and assessment of income-tax, service tax and VAT. In a computer-filled world, why such duplication of returns is demanded remains a mystery except to those who believe that it is simply a part of the "harass the citizen" approach of the tax bureaucracy. Industry expects that Prime Minister Modi will ensure that experts from academics as well as industry will get embedded into the functioning of financial institutions and economic ministries, to ensure a familiarity with the real world in the framing of policies, so that absurd measures such as the Fringe Benefits Tax or the recent proposal to itemise every expense while travelling abroad are avoided.
In this context, they applaud the sensitivity of Prime Minister Modi and his ministerial colleagues to public opinion, as reflected in their reconsideration of specific measures midwifed by the bureaucracy after public uproar at their insensitivity and damage potential.
The Manmohan Singh decade also saw the proliferation of specific NGOs funded from outside that had an agenda of blocking development in key sectors such as irrigation, power and industry. Industry is looking forward to Prime Minister Modi cutting through the Gordian Knot faced by domestic corporates by listing the "No Go" (without prior approval) areas and giving automatic permission to other fields of activity, rather than applications having to be made before any project gets started. Also, the expectation is that more powers of sanctioning projects will get devolved on the states, which in turn will be encouraged to transfer power lower down, to the district level. Key sectors such as infrastructure and telecom are anticipating a clear "mergers & acquisitions" policy, combined with freedom to trade in assets such as spectrum, the quantity of which needs to be increased in order to ensure that the present level of 900 million citizens without proper access to the internet gets reduced substantially. Overall, the scam-ridden UPA decade gave rise to a perception of guilt in the functioning of businesses, as well as to investigations eating away much of the time of top management in several enterprises: the expectation is that procedures in such situations will be rationalised and shortened, so that a wait of decades, which is the normal in litigation in India, becomes a nightmare of the past.
Thus far, the bias against domestic industry continues, as recently evidenced in the efforts to derail an Indian company, Flipkart, from emerging as a global competitor to foreign entities such as Amazon. Incidentally, the $1 billion of investment promised by Jeff Bezos in September 2014 has yet to materialise. What were the influences that made so many agencies swing into action against Flipkart when they have been silent against much bigger foreign entities who are seeking to monopolise the market in India? Another example was the campaign against Naukri, which was competing with Monster for the market in India and nearby regions. The silent reach of the influence of international brands within officialdom has led to a situation where foreign entities dominate the internet space in India, a country with immense growth potential for the coming five years. Hidden operators ensure that domestic entities get harassed and hounded, thereby incapacitating them from taking on much bigger international brands despite offering far better quality of services.
The contrast between the neglect of the Manmohan Singh government to domestic industry as contrasted with the backing given to local entities by China can be seen from the toy industry, with 40% of Indian toy companies shutting down because of competition from China, which has led to the closure, for example, of 60% of the industrial units in once-flourishing centres such as Bhiwandi and Thane in Maharashtra. Pharma is another example of domestic industry losing ground, with fully 3,079 (out of 3,488) product patents issued from 2005 to 2010 going to MNCs. Within officialdom, lobbies operate to favour MNCs at the expense of domestic corporates, as they do in other fields, and there is anticipation that Prime Minister Modi will put India First in matters of policy rather than the Foreigner First firman of the previous government. Thus far, for domestic industry at least, it has been "Break in India". The hope is that this will change in the second half of 2015 to not only encourage "Make in India", but equally importantly, "Made by India".

Saturday 25 April 2015

When myths are taken as facts (Pakistan Observer)

Friday, April 24, 2015 - The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is far and away the most important power in the Middle East, not merely because of its oil wealth and its size, but because of the fact that the two holiest sites of Islam are within its boundaries. This geographical reality has given Riyadh a “soft power” completely out of proportion to its size. Given the tapestry of the Muslim world, where many different schools of thought exist, some having millions of followers, in hindsight it may have been preferable for the regime in Saudi Arabia to be more neutral in its approach towards these different strands of a faith that is the fastest-growing in the world.

However, almost from the start of their ascent to power two centuries back, the ruling Al Saud family (after whom the Kingdom is named) have formed a bond with the followers of Abdul Wahhab, with the two families closely linked through marriage. As a consequence, the teachings of the theologian have been accepted as the only true version of a faith which has more than a billion adherents worldwide, and in brief decades will overtake Christianity as the faith having the largest number of followers worldwide. Mosques other than those approved by this interpretation of the faith are disallowed from construction, while the houses of worship of any other faith is banned under law. 

At a time when change is the only constant, and when hundreds of millions of young people seek to acquire the skills needed to succeed in competition with their peers, a more liberal approach would have served the overall interests of this vast country better. Indeed, this was what was being attempted by King Abdullah, who even reached out beyond the Abrahamic faiths to Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism when ensuring the holding of interfaith dialogues, some of which have been attended by this columnist.

The Sudairi branch of the Saudi royals has for several decades persued a policy of enforcing orthodoxy within the Kingdom despite the reality of their being coismopolitan in their outlook and lifestyles. after the passing away of King Abdullah, there has been a visible shift in Riyadh’s policy towards the region. Rather than a nuanced approach, intervention is now direct, and in a military form, as witnessed by the air force operations in Yemen. As those familiar with such combat know, it is impossible to subdue a fighting force exclusively from the air, except in Europe, where the pain threshold of the population is low, and consequently an air offensive can lead to civilian hardship so severe that a country’s leaders are forced into submission, as took place in the matter of Serbia.

Both London and Washington, in contrast, have a “Use & Throw” policy towards those who expend blood and treasure by the side of the US and the UK in conflicts, as policymakers in Asia and surrounding regions know only too well from Taipei to Kabul, not to mention Cairo, where it took Hillary Clinton less than thirty days to abandon to his fate Hosni Mubarak, who had served the interests of Washington and its principal partner in the region, Isrrael, for three decades and more. The creation of myths is a function of psychological operations, and part of the chessboard of struggle in the modern world. However, the danger comes when myths deliberately created to mislead get believed even by those manufacturing them. 

After Saddam Hussein’s unwise takeover of Kuwait, the individual who was given massive help in his decade-long battle against Iran suddenly became a foe, and consequently a flood of reports linking him to terrorism got manufactured in the psy-war laboratories of NATO. That these were too potent for relatively simple-minded individuals to be immune from became clear when both President George W Bush and Vice-President Richard Cheney of the US began to believe that Saddam was the actual head of Al Qaeda and that Osama bin Laden was only his subordinate. It did not take long for another simple-minded individual, Tony Blair, to fall into the same delusion, along with more than a hundred million people in both the UK as well as the US. While the removal of Saddam Hussein was certainly a desirable outcome, the manner in which the aftermath was handled by successive Viceroys of Iraq sent from Washington ensured that the country developed into even more of an extremist swamp than Afghanistan in its worst days. 

However, the disease of swallowing self-made propaganda continued, for example in the case of Libya, where Nicholas Sarkozy followed the delusionary path of Bush-Cheney and saw in Muammar Kaddafy a Hitler rather than the cartoon character the Libyan dictator was. In seeking to save thousands from possible reprisals by Kaddafy’s forces at Benghazi, Sarkozy ( followed eagerly by David Cameron and Hillary Clinton,two other policymakers known to consume their own spin) began a series of military operations which led to Libya becoming a headache for Europe in the matter of both terrorism as well as migration by boat. 

Given such examples, it may have been expected that Riyadh would pause before going down the same path as Washington, London and Paris had done, with such dire consequences for the region as well as (ultimately) for themselves. However, the new order in the Kingdom following on the passing away of King Abddullah clearly believes that airctaft costing tens of billions of euro to buy and maintain need to be used in actual combat rather than be confined to fly pasts during festivie occasions. 

The decision to use Saudi airpower and US intelligence assets to degrade the fighting capacity of the Houthis in Yemen is a historic mistake. Getting involved in the sectarian divisions of the Middle East is an error, especially for a country where poverty is rife and where unrest is not far from the surface, unlike in Qatar or Kuwait, where popular discontent is far lower. More than Riyadh it is Washingtonm that has made the bigger mistake in Yemen, by openly backing military action against a force that is sectarian but not in the least terrorist. By weakening the Houthis, the Obama administration has handed a lifeline to Al Qaeda-ISIS, the effects of which will soon get felt throughout the region. 

In Yemen, the choice is not between the hapless Hadi regime and the Houthis but between the Houthis and Al Qaeda-ISIS. In similar fashion, in Syria the choice is not between imaginary “moderate freedom fighters” and the supposed twin threats of Assad annd Al Qaeda but between Al Qaeda-ISIS and Assad. By following Samantha Power’s dictum that Assad is the main foe in Syria, the US will only be providing oxygen to Al Qaeda-ISIS. As it is,Yemen had been host of a substantial Al Qaeda presence. Now that will multiply, because of the focus of bombings being on the Houthis, who are the principal (indeed, the only) enemies of Al Qaeda-ISIS in that country. The two partners in the war on the Houthis, Riyadh and Washington, will soon be reaping the bitter results of the Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen, and a rise in instability within the region. However, this is what happens when myths made up by themselves get believed as fact by the very spin doctors who manufactured them.

Sunday 19 April 2015

PM Modi, tear down this wall (Sunday Guardian)

M.D Nalapat is the Editorial Director of The Sunday Guardian.

TRAI must not seek to become a trade union for some businesses but serve as a catalyst for 900 million Indians, now without viable internet access.

In 12 June 1987, President Ronald Reagan of the United States stood at the Brandenburger Tor in Berlin and asked USSR President Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev to "tear down this wall", referring to the Berlin Wall that had been erected in 1961 to stanch the steady flow of East Germans migrating to their western neighbour. The Soviet leader did not immediately oblige, but less than four years later, made the wall irrelevant, by ensuring that military force was not used to roll back the popular movement within the German Democratic Republic (GDR, or East Germany) against the Communist rulers.
The seeds of Soviet collapse were planted less by Gorbachev, but by Leonid Brezhnev, who during 1964-82 supervised a bureaucratic mode of governance, which placed procedure over performance. Although the economy of the USSR — not to mention its relations with key states such as the US — got damaged because of the diversion of nearly a third of the national treasure towards military purposes, the risk-averse, indeed cowardly, Soviet leadership of the time refused to make use of such strength, except in cases where resistance was practically absent, as for example in the suppression of Czech protests in 1968. Had, for example, attacks been launched on Peshawar and other staging areas for the Mujahideen during the decade-long conflict between them and the Soviet armed forces in Afghanistan, there is little doubt that Islamabad would have pulled back from its role of serving as the hub of the insurgency. Only the conversion of a non-conventional war of attrition into a conventional conflict would have transformed the dynamics of the Afghanistan war, but this was never attempted.
Interestingly, the bureaucracy-heavy decision-making process in India kept this country from responding to the Pakistan army's "death by a thousand cuts" strategy with tactics designed to inflict disproportionate pain to GHQ at Rawalpindi. Unless the military in Pakistan has the collective mentality of a suicide bomber, there is no way that they would respond to a Kashmir-specific attack by the Indian Air Force and by missile units on Mujahideen concentrations in PoK. And they would be aware that any conventional attack on military installations in Kashmir or elsewhere would be met with immediate retaliation on corresponding facilities across the border.
It is the same bureaucratic way of thinking and reacting that has so far prevented successive elected governments in what is regarded as a democratic and independent country — India — from ensuring the same level of access to information as is present in countries such as the US. Unlike the case in more complete democracies, top level appointments in India get made in a manner opaque to all except the few making them, whether such authorities be from the judicial or the executive branch. Were there to be a system of public hearings before deciding on nominations to Supreme Court or High Court judges, or to constitutional posts such as the CVC, the CEC and the CAG, citizens across the country would have an opportunity to weigh in on the same, and make public whatever views and information they have on each candidate.
Sadly, this is a country whose leaders retained the colonial system (and in large part even the style) of governance, rather than ensuring the putting in place of mechanisms more congruent with democratic rights and national needs.
Just as Gorbachev could not have staved off the inevitable for more than a few years even should he have done a Brezhnev, those elected to office in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls must know that the people of India are no longer prepared to remain stifled by colonial appurtenances, and that it was precisely this desire for change that brought so many of them into the BJP kitty, especially as the party was led by a charismatic leader who promised change from the past. It is now time for Narendra Modi to deliver on that promise by ensuring that the processes of governance be made transparent, and that the brainpower of those other than officials be brought to bear when policy gets decided. Should such a transformation not take place within the coming months, it will not be long before public protest ensures that it does.
While national security, both in general and in specifics, is certainly important, yet this must be the exception and not made the excuse to enforce secrecy as the norm. Both in the way in which wings of the government sought to make permanent such monstrosities as Section 66A of the IT Act and in the manner by which TRAI is seeking to be a trade union for some businesses rather than serve as the catalyst for the 900 million people in India, now without viable internet access to go online, it is clear that relatively few in the Modi government are in step with the Prime Minister's 21st century vision. He will need to make the tearing down of the wall of opacity and secrecy infecting the processes of governance a priority. The Supreme Court needs to ensure that the practice of setting up historical figures as icons, criticism of whom is forbidden, gets discontinued. The freedom to offend is core to liberty, so long as such language causes no physical harm. Broadband of the mind needs to be developed as much as broadband access to the internet. The colonial walls blocking freedoms and constraining thought are too many for this country to claim it is anchored in the 21st century. Prime Minister Modi, tear down such walls!

Saturday 18 April 2015

900M Indians outside worldwide web (Pakistan Observer)

Geopolitical notes from India

M D Nalapat

Friday, April 17, 2015 - As is the norm in India with state agencies, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has been the preserve of bureaucrats serving and retired, many of whom have functioned not on behalf of the consumers they are supposed to protect but Big Business. Internet penetration in India is among the lowest in Asia in percentage terms, placing this country in the same dismal league as Afghanistan. Bandwidth is low and speeds are so slow that most downloads are impossible. In such a situation, it would have been expected of TRAI that it ensured universal access to the internet and made the same free of cost or at a very low cost. 

Such a development would empower tens of millions of ordinary citizens - or “netizens” as those using the world wide web are called - and boost the country’s productivity and hence GDP. However, should the curbs on net usage now seen in India persist into the future, such growth would be absent and the country would continue to have the doubtful distinction of having more people without internet access than such unfortunates in the rest of Asia combined. The reason for such a dismal state of affairs was evident when TRAI released a “discussion paper” which in effect would choke access to the internet for hundreds of millions rather than open out the system to more. However, this time around, netizens refused to accept such absurd suggestions supinely, and mobilized to protest. The Telecom Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, who comes from a wealthy family, is now in a dilemma: whether to disappoint the big telecom companies who want access to the internet to be controlled by them, or ensure “net neutrality” in India,whereby any site can be freely accessed through a portal. When battling to first emerge as the Prime Ministerial nominee of the BJP and subsequently to gain a majority for his party in the Lok Sabha (House of the People), Narendra Modi had on his side an army of netizens who flooded websites with complimentary references to him and adverse mentions of his Congress rivals, notably Sonia Gandhi. These millions of motivated individuals will be hoping — indeed expecting — that Prime Minister Modi will rein in the Big Business lobbies within his team, and ensure both that the internet spreads to the nine hundred million citizens without useful access to the system as well as ensure increased bandwidth at reduced cost.

However, rather than a person who understands technology and the power of the internet, the Prime Minister chose a lawyer as the Telecom Minister, with an inevitable bias towards regulation. It was Ravi Shankar Prasad who ensured, for example, that the Modi government followed the line of Manmohan Singh by defending the notorious Article 66A of the Internet Act, which gave powers of arrest to any policeman on the most flimsy of grounds. Fortunately for the prospect of democracy in the country, this provision was struck down by the Supreme Court. Of course, Prasad is reportedly planning to bring into force a new law which would fill in the gap in untrammelled state power caused by the string down of 66A. Prime Minister Modi has total faith in the bureaucracy, and he has continued with the time-worn practice of giving bureaucrats and ex-bureaucrats a near-monopoly in top positions. Posts that in other countries are usually filled from those in Civil Society, not the Civil Service. For example, there are only bureaucrats in a committee the Prime Minister has set up to “review” the Official Secrets Act, that graveyard of facts inconvenient to those in power. Not a single representative from Civil Society finds a mention in such a committee, despite the obvious interest of the citizen in ensuring that the British-era fetish of secrecy get replaced with a more 21st century construct. 

At present, within the portals of government, secrecy is the norm and disclosure the exception, whereas the reverse ought to be the case. Rather than “Make in India”, what is being seen in a flurry of contracts awarded to countries and companies across the globe is “Make for India”. Any visitor to Silicon Valley would note that close to a third of the companies functioning there are run by individuals of Indian origin. Why is it that, despite such talent, India has been unable to come up with a challenger to Google or to Facebook? Why has India not been able to follow the lead given by China, which has its own versions of Twitter and Facebook? Instead, the effort within a section of the bureaucracy (which coincidentally has several of its offspring working abroad and many in the very platforms which have a monopoly within India) is to drive away any chance of a domestic competitor to platforms from abroad. 

Whether it be the Zuckerbergs of Facebook or the Gates of Microsoft,what they are really interested in is cash,lots of it,as well as the promotion of the interests of big corporates in the US through “charitable” programmes such as those involving vaccines (of course manufactured by huge pharma companies charging extortionate prices). The tens of millions who backed Narendra Modi over others in 2014 are still hopeful that the Prime Minister of India will finally implement what he promised, and ensure both Net Neutrality as well as universal internet access for a country that has 300 million destitutes and 900 million without effective access to the internet. For this, he will need to involve within his government those who are expert in the field, rather than in bureaucratic procedures and with the framing of regulation upon regulation. 

Modi will need to bring to TRAI and other such agencies those with a record of fighting for the ordinary citizen rather than promoting the interests of Big Business, especially foreign monopolies eager to lock out domestic competition from the growing market in India. As it is, steps such as Aadhar are making data on citizens vulnerable to external interests, while within the country, platforms hosted from outside have close to a monopoly in coverage. Unless the telecom authorities ensure that Net Neutrality is promoted and protrude rather than cast aside, India’s immense potential will go unrealised. Faster access to the internet at low or zero costs would boost productivity and therefore production in such a significant manner that taxes - even if at low rates - would jump upwards as they do in every country with fast rates of growth. 

Ufortunately, all that bureaucrats seek is control, control and more control, for they know that there exists a direct correlation between such regressive steps and the bribes they covet. Thus far, the record of the Modi government has been as dismal as that of its predecessor. However, many are looking towards the day when the Prime Minister “walks the talk” and delivers the 21st century system of governance he promised voters in 2014.

Sunday 12 April 2015

Dogma is against Sanatan Dharma (Sunday Guardian)

M.D Nalapat is the Editorial Director of The Sunday Guardian.

It is theologically possible to be a Sanatani, while following faiths other than Hinduism.
Sri Jayendra Saraswati
More than a decade ago, in 2001, this columnist attempted to arrange a visit of Sri Jayendra Saraswati, the Shankaracharya of Kanchi, to China. After some hesitation, the Chinese hosts agreed to almost all the requests made by the Shankaracharya's nephew (who was deputed as his representative to finalise the logistical and stay details of what would have been the first-ever visit by a Shankaracharya to China, a country which successive Popes have yet to succeed in getting invited to). They, however, drew the line at the suggestion that the WCs at the Zhongnanhai State Guest House in Beijing be replaced with squat commodes so as to suit the preferences of the saint's party, although agreeing to cooks and vegetables being brought in from India for providing Sri Jayendra Saraswati's fare. In order to meet the traditional prohibition of a Shankaracharya travelling over water, the Chinese hosts agreed to a special aircraft flying entirely overland on its journey from Chennai to Beijing. The saint would have been welcomed with the almost same panache as though he were a Head of State, the way the Pontiff at Rome is by protocol the Head of State of the Vatican, which is technically a country independent of Italy. Those were the years when an increasing number of Chinese, now that they were well off, were looking beyond the materialism of Marxist textbooks and delving into the world of spiritualism, especially into Christianity and Buddhism. Had the Shankaracharya's visit taken place, Sanatan Dharma would have been a third option for such individuals. However, criticism from the orthodox ensured that Sri Jayendra Saraswati cancelled his visit at the last minute, thereby depriving not only the Chinese people but the global community of the spectacle of a religious leader being welcomed into the world's largest communist state, for there is little doubt that international news channels would have found such a trip impossible to ignore.
It is not only in China, but across other parts of the globe — principally in the US and within much of the EU — that presumed champions of Sanatan Dharma have missed out on an opportunity to showcase the philosophy of a faith which reflects the liberal and eclectic values of the 21st century better than many others. Indeed, by its clarity on the reality of each faith being a pathway to the divine, Sanatan Dharma can be extant even within communities of those professing faiths that postulate only a single pathway to the divine and characterise as heresy any alternative formulation. Indeed, it is theologically possible to be a Sanatani, even while being followers of faiths other than Hinduism in those where there is an acceptance of the rights of others to follow a different path, and an abhorrence of violence as the means towards the achievement of goals. Rather than expend energies on seeking to prevent conversions in India, what is needed is an international competition between faiths, and the underlining of free choice to individuals to adopt the faith of their choice, or to move away from all such constructs. Within the US, China and the more advanced parts of the European Union in particular, there is a hunger for knowledge of faiths other than what have been the tradition in their lands, and it is certain that the philosophies embedded in the teachings, which have originated millennia ago within this country, are strong enough to ensure at least a respectful hearing among tens if not hundreds of millions of seekers. In such a context, both the Shankaracharya of Kanchi's opting out of a possibly historic China visit as well as the near-exclusive focus on preventing conversions in India conflicts with the adoption of a global perspective on the lines advocated by Swami Chinmayananda and now by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. A narrow approach, in contrast, springs out of a dogmatism in thinking and behaviour alien to the Open Skies philosophy of Sanatan Dharma.
The months following the assumption of national office in Delhi of the BJP-led coalition have been on far too many occasions marked by incidents and approaches — including sometimes by those in ministerial office at the Centre or in the states — which are contrary to the universality and tolerant spirit of the fundamentals of Sanatan Dharma. It bears repeating that such a liberal spirit is witnessed also in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, as well as in the ubiquity of the qualities of mercy, compassion and benevolence found interspersed within the Holy Quran. Rather than seek to prohibit lifestyle choices and opportunities through the bludgeon of law the way authoritarian countries do, what is called for from a government, which promised to raise the country to 21st century codes and standards, is to respect freedom of choice, enlarge the flow of information, and ensure security for liberty and property, while extending opportunity to the disadvantaged. Unless such a move away from the colonial state be carried out, it would be a travesty of truth to claim that the contrary policy — of restrictions and prohibitions which enforce monochrome choices on the people — is in any way reflective of Sanatan Dharma.