Justice A.P. Shah’s M.N. Roy Memorial Lecture

A good friend had forwarded me the full text of Shri. A.P. Shah’s M.N. Roy Memorial Lecture. You can find it here. The PDF of the speech is here.

Overall, it is a good lecture. I understand the need for someone of his stature to raise his voice against nascent signs of intolerance and suppression of dissent in insidious ways. That is very much needed too.

However,  I do have some differences – big and small.

How then did M.N. Roy understand nationalism? In Roy’s view, nationalism was representative of the desires and ambitions of a group of people within a certain geographical area, as opposed to people uniting on the basis of class. Nationalism thus emphasised the placing of one’s country’s interest over the interest of the rest of the world. There was a time in the 19th century, when countries were still isolated from each other, when nationalism was a historic necessity, under whose banner people came together and humanity progressed. However, he believed, it had now become a selfish, narrow-minded “antiquated cult”, and the world should progress towards internationalism and international cooperation.

Nationalism in the context of the rise of China and Pakistan, the manner of their rise, their systematic and persistent hostility to India combined with their use of the social media and other pecuniary motivations, is not outmoded. Unfortunately, that is also going to give rise to inevitable restrictions on the concept of ‘benefit of doubt’ to spontaneous, agenda-less dissent.

In other words, Indians have to accept certain (that can be defined) restrictions in their exercise of fundamental liberties. The State machinery will try to take advantage of the situation to place restrictions on domestic political dissent. But, Courts, civil society and the media should and would play the role of ‘checks and balance’. In any case, Justice A.P. Shah seems alive to that risk.

While discussing the declaration made by the President of the Hindu Maha Sabha that “the majority is the nation”, Roy said that it sounds quite in “tune with formal democracy”, but in reality “particularly in the prevailing atmosphere of Indian politics, it means that in a nationally free India the Muslims, constituting nearly 1/3rd of the population, will have no freedom”.

​If some sections constituted one-third and hence had to be accepted as an integral part of India – a very fair point – then it is not consistent with preferential treatment as minorities. The State cannot mandate that they shall have the first claim on India and that they be exempt from RTE provisions, for example. One cannot have the cake and eat it too.

But, the speech does leave a feeling of deliberate incompleteness when it talks of how a group of twenty-something students of a University could be tried for charges of sedition for doing what the students in a campus would do:

More than 90 years later, however, we are still grappling with the fact that the crime of sedition was invoked against a group of 20-something University students for doing what students in a campus should feel entitled to do – raise slogans, debate, disagree, and challenge each other on complex, political issues that face the nation today.

Clearly, the State should have had the nous to separate slogan-shouting from explicit anti-national activities. At the same time, the learned Justice should have noted that the shoe is on the other foot too when it comes to the charge of intolerance. The students prevented and still do prevent alternate points of view.

If nationalism cannot be compelled – and I agree with that without qualification – then is it justifiable that anti-nationalism can be compelled on national soil as some sections of the society want?

If voluntary groups of people – like students – can resort to violence (in America, now left-liberal students even consider words as violence) to stop alternative points of view, then it becomes that much more untenable for critics to blame the State alone for resorting to violence on which it is supposed to have a monopoly!

The speech would have been more complete had he also acknowledged the special circumstances that India finds itself in – an assertive and threatening China and its poodle Pakistan, the global rise of Islamic terrorism, Naxals and Maoists and the exploitation of these fissiparous tendencies by Christian Missionaries – that places the State and the army in a uniquely difficult position, etc.

Some law and order excesses would be inevitable in such situations and they should be redressed and addressed. That said, they do not negate nor nullify the need for vigilance by the State. That would be a very naive call.

Kamal Hassan in his movie, ‘Nayakan’ asks the question of who should stop first. That applies here.

M.N. Roy’s so-called and apparent context-free commitment to certain ideals definitely had a context. Anyone who claims that they were not influenced by the context in which they lived is lying. Similarly, any message that does not take into account the context in delivering eternal homilies is an incomplete one.

Indeed, all those who speak pejoratively of nationalism are able to do so only within the sanctuary offered by certain nations. That they cannot do so in all nations is a comprehensive rejection of their rejection of nationalism.

Finally, both at a micro-level – families, small groups and communities – and at the national level, compulsion is usually counter-productive. So, I agree with this part of the speech fully:

As Pratap Bhanu Mehta points out, the order fails to understand a distinction fundamental to liberal democracy – everything that is desirable or makes for a better citizen does not, and should not, be made compulsory. In fact, making something compulsory undermines the very meaning of that action and the respect that is normally accorded to it.

Disclined to discuss and hence, disinvite

The media outlets that are relentlessly pursuing Donald Trump should pause and do a story on the data that the Heterodox Academy had presented. See here and here.

Second part is more interesting. The Left proposed more disinvitations and disrupted events more!

It shines another spotlight an aspect of the ‘Regressive Left’ behaviour that needs to be highlighted. This is not ‘Left-Liberal’ but ‘Left-intolerance’. Really, we should come up something far more accurate than ‘Left-Liberal’. There is really nothing ‘Liberal’ at all about this behaviour.

Refusing to discuss problems will not solve them or make them disappear but make positions harden and rigid. In fact, discussion of a problem is, in itself, a step towards the solution.

The media’s non-coverage of the problems faced by European nations with respect to immigrants (primarily Sweden, Belgium and Greece) is objectionable not because it is unfair, immoral but because it is so stupid. It does not even help them advance their goals, regardless of my agreement or disagreement with them. It is so counter-productive,
self-defeating and hence, so stupid.

Avoiding hard questions is neither progressivism nor enlightenment. It is escapism. Escapism has never solved problems nor made the world a better place.

Since when ostriches with heads buried deep in the sand produced problem-solving leadership?

Further, from Prof. Jonathan Haidt’ Twitter handle: The Student Assembly in Cornell U. votes down a resolution to increase ideological diversity. We should worry for America, but not for the reasons many think.

Sagely advice

These are verbatim extracts from the article, ‘Finale’ written by James Taranto who compiled the ‘Best of the web’ for the Wall Street Journal for nine years.

In our own postelection conversations with Trump supporters, the predominant emotions we’ve detected have been joy and hope. It reminds us very much of the prevailing mood in the mainstream media around this time eight years ago.

No doubt before the election a lot of Trump supporters were angry about the incumbent and the status quo more generally. But the same was true of Obama supporters in 2008.

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Territorial animals fiercely defend their turf: “When a territory holder is challenged by a rival, the owner almost always wins the contest–usually within a matter of seconds,” observes biologist John Alcock in “Animal Behavior: An Evolutionary Approach.” We’d say the same instinct is at work when the great apes who call themselves Homo sapiens defend their authority. When it is challenged, they can become vicious, prone to risky and unscrupulous behavior.

That, it seems to us, is the central story of our time. The left-liberal elite that attained cultural dominance between the 1960s and the 1980s—and that since 2008 has seen itself as being on the cusp of political dominance as well—is undergoing a crisis of authority, and its defenses are increasingly ferocious and unprincipled. Journalists lie or ignore important but politically uncongenial stories. Scientists suppress alternative hypotheses. Political organizations bully apolitical charities. The Internal Revenue Service persecutes dissenters. And campus censorship goes on still.

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We argued in November that Trump’s election was “probably a necessary corrective” to left-liberal authoritarianism—a point PJMedia’s Roger Kimball echoes in a recent column:

Among the many things that changed during the early hours of November 9 was a cultural dispensation that had been with us since at least the 1960s, the smug, “progressive” (don’t call it “liberal”) dispensation that had insinuated itself like a toxic fog throughout our cultural institutions—our media, our universities, our think tanks and beyond. So well established was this set of cultural assumptions, cultural presumptions, that it seemed to many like the state of nature: just there as is a mountain or an expanse of ocean. But it turns out it was just a human, all-too-human fabrication whose tawdriness is now as obvious as its fragility.

What we are witnessing is its dissolution. It won’t happen all at once and there are bound to be pockets of resistance. But they will become ever more irrelevant even if they become ever shriller and more histrionic. The anti-Trump establishment is correct that what is taking place is a sea change in our country. But they are wrong about its purport. It is rendering them utterly irrelevant even as it is boosting the confidence, strength, and competence of the country as a whole. Glad tidings indeed.

That may prove overly optimistic. On the other hand, do you see what we mean about joy and hope?

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Our advice to journalists who wish to improve the quality of their trade would be to lose their self-importance, overcome the temptation to pose as (or bow to) authority figures, and focus on the basic function of journalism, which is to tell stories. Journalists are not arbiters of truth; we are, unlike fiction writers (or for that matter politicians), constrainedby the truth. But fiction writers bear the heavier burden of making their stories believable.

When you think about journalism in this way, its failure in 2016 becomes very simple to understand. Whether you see Trump as a hero or a goat—or something in between, which is our still-tentative view—his unlikely ascension to the presidency was a hell of a story. Most journalists missed the story because they were too caught up in defending a system of cultural authority of which they had foolishly allowed themselves to become an integral part.

The right leadership

… While capitalism at last stands electorally victorious and philosophically without serious rival, its performance has become manifestly unsatisfactory. Its core credential of steadily rising general living standards has been badly tarnished: a majority now expect their children’s lives to be worse than their own. It is time for “The Future of Capitalism”. Unfortunately, nobody has yet successfully written that book. In its absence, I will try to weave something from the strands of recent contributions to the field.

Whatever emerges will not be a new ideology. If Levinson is not enough to convince you, try Jonathan Tepperman’s The Fix. His title refers not to our current mess, but to ten case studies of how some political leaders really have transformed situations for the better. Tepperman searches for the formula by which these people have remedied serious problems. The cases are valuable in their own right: many leaders could learn from how Lee Kwan Yew drove out corruption in Singapore, how Pierre Trudeau defused Québécois separatism, and how Paul Kagame rebuilt cultural identities in Rwanda. But for present purposes it is Tepperman’s conclusion that is valuable: eschew ideology; focus on pragmatic solutions to core problems, adjust as you go, but be as tough as is necessary. A viable future for capitalism will cut across the ideological baggage of the twentieth century: forget Left versus Right, set aside the familiar pious moralizing and start from the problems. As Tepperman argues, the leaders who stuck rigorously to this approach initially faced intense criticism. Pragmatism is guaranteed to offend the ideologues of every persuasion and they are the people who dominate the media. [Link]

Did Paul Collier forget Nelson Mandela?

Among the global leaders of today, who comes close to this pragmatic centre?

Sudeep’s mirror for PM Modi

Sudeep Chakravarti’s piece in MINT struck a chord in me. I thought it was a very well written and thoughtful piece.

I personally think that picking holes in a few sentences here and there (and they are there – I will list them below) will not take away from the overall content of the piece.

I used to know him very well when he was in ‘India Today’ and for a few years after that too. He showed me and my family around in Goa in 2007 when we were there on a holiday and bought us a nice lunch too. Later, I met him in Singapore in 2010.

I was one of his sounding boards as I read through the manuscript of his book, ‘Red Sun’ – a very bold and personal and dangerous journey he undertook through the Maoist lands in India. He has acknowledged me in that book. That is just a personal anecdote.

From being a liberal ‘free market’ type, after his work in the Naxal belt and seeing the combined predation of the State and capitalists, his compass had shifted. I do not blame him for that. When one sees such massive exploitation up close and personal, it would only be a surprise if he were not moved by it. Therefore, the text, in some places, reflected the ‘Stockholm syndrome’. I pointed them out. He saw my points.

We have problems with capitalists and the State. But, we have problems with Maoists, their goals, their design and their methods. In the process of chronicling and exposing one, we cannot afford to let the other side escape scrutiny, judgement and action.

All that by way of background being done with, the piece is a very important read for the PM and his core and close followers. Someone has to hold up the mirror and Sudeep, despite some journalistic exaggerations, has done an admirable job of it, in my view.

Such plainspeaking within the inner circle is needed. I hope it exists but I doubt it. Not in India and not in many, many countries in the world. But, why single out political leaders? It has been singularly missing among so-called intellectuals. Otherwise, Brexit and Trump election victory would have been anticipated. So, in that sense, it is not just PM Modi who might be living in a cocoon of his own but scores of others too.

But, that is neither here nor there. This blog has been very happily exposing the hollowness and inconsistencies of the so-called intellectuals globally and will continue to do so.

Therefore, ‘what about?’ry is part of the argument in a duel/debate. But, it cannot be used as an argument to exclude reflection of the arguments being made. If so, it is the loss to the object of criticism and, in this case, a loss to the country too.

What are Sudeep’s exaggerations?

(1) The rupee is in a tailspin. – that is not true. Almost all currencies in the world are depreciating against the U.S. dollar.

(2) The “pain” of the currency swap that Modi and his cohorts speak of is expected to contract the economy this year. – I think he got the Ambit Capital forecast mixed up. They expected a Y/Y contraction in one particular quarter, I think. Not GDP contraction in 2016-17 or in 2017-18.

(3) The agreement with Switzerland to share information about Indian holdings in Swiss banks will come into effect in 2018, with information for the previous year, enough time to move money. – well, that is not the government’s fault. They should be complimented for closing the loop or hole on that one.

(4) including that of the first NDA government that ended its term with ignominy in 2004. – I am not sure it ended the term in ignominy, unless he means the election results themselves. But, their economic governance in the last two and half years of their term (1999-2004) was quite impressive.

Perhaps, in the final analysis, Sudeep’s article struck a chord with me because the underlying purpose of my co-authored work with Gulzar Natarajan, ‘Can India grow?’ was that a merciless diagnosis of all the wrongs and all that do not work is an indispensable foundation for eradicating them and improving on them, respectively.

About nine days ago, journalist-friend TCA Srinivasa Raghavan had shared an English translation of an article that he had written for Hindi Quint. It was a mid-term appraisal of Modi, the PM and Modi, the policymaker. He had given good marks on the former and not-so-high marks on the latter. He had written that ‘his economic policies had been socialist in their orientation’.

He is right. The NDA government’s first three budgets did not set the Yamuna, Ganges and Cauvery on fire with their imagination and bold strokes.

Even the black money demonetisation is clearly a policy in that light. The aspirational aspects of freeing up the individuals from financial repression, from other clutches of the State have not yet been given the prominence or importance as they should have been, along with the ‘cleaning of the Augean stables’. The latter is foundational and a bedrock, I admit. But, in economic policies, one has to build the foundation and the superstructure simultaneously. In construction, one has to wait. Here, it does not have to be.

I suspect that they may have something to do with the advisors who has his ears. I will shy away from using Western constructs to describe them as conservatives or liberals or Left or Right. I will simply call them status-quo ists with strong moral absolutes. Some of their economic policy proposals may appear progressive politically but they are typically distributionist policies administered by the heavy hand of the State. There is nothing in them that unleashes the productive and creative energies of the people.

Again, coming back to our report, ‘Can India grow?’, Gulzar and I had spent a bit of time and effort on writing about the leadership qualities that India needs at this stage. We have cited three or four ‘Thirukkural’s. Those ‘Kural’s stress the need for leaders to have fearless, unbiased advisors who would talk the truth to the leaders. At the minimum, the leader has to consult more widely. For now, I am not sure that it is happening in India. Will be glad if I am wrong.

Perhaps, the coming budget will prove us wrong. Hope sustains us in everything.

A penultimate point: it is one thing to dismiss habitual and pathological critics. There are many. Some of them, unfortunately, are losing their personal credibility because they have mixed up issues, exaggerated negatives, pretended that no positives exist, etc. That raises legitimate doubts about their personal agenda, even if there was none. So, their criticism is afflicted by joint hypothesis problems.

A final point: I would submit that this critique be taken away for a year-end reading, resulting in some good resolutions for the New Year!

Post-script: For the admirers of the PM Modi, if this blog post felt like a cold shower, please do check out these articles.They will be a good antidote to this blog post, if you need it.

Funny that a Hong Kong columnist should wish that Hong Kong leadership emulated Indian leadership. Hong Kong’s handling of corruption in the 1970s with high profile arrests and prosecution paved the way for the city-State to become ‘clean’ in the 20th century. India is yet to emulate that. Even the black money drive falls short of that.

Merkel, Liberals and Liberalism

When I saw the story that Ms. Merkel would seek a fourth term as German Chancellor my mind went back to a comment that Professor-Philosopher John Gray made about her in a brilliant article after the Brexit vote:

A country whose pre-eminent leader condones the prosecution of a comedian accused of insulting a foreign head of state – as Angela Merkel did earlier this year – cannot be relied on to protect freedom of expression.

It appears that she is so out of touch with the reality in Germany that she thinks she can win. This letter in FT poses the right question about her seeking a fourth term.

This is what Wolfgang Streeck, political economist and Leftist wrote about her decision to let refugees in:

Once again, a decision ‘that will change our country’, as Merkel herself put it, was made without regard for democratic process or, for that matter, constitutional formalities. When Merkel declared the German borders open, there had been no cabinet decision to this effect and no official statement in the Bundestag. Since the opposition didn’t ask, as Merkel knew they wouldn’t, nobody knows to this day what sort of order, legal or not, by whom and when, was given to the police. The Interior Ministry is still refusing requests from leading figures (including the former president of the constitutional court, who was preparing a legal opinion on the matter for the Bavarian government) for access to the ministerial decree that should have been issued to the border authorities. [Link]

Incidentally and interestingly, Wolfgang Streeck wrote this as part of his review of a book by Martin Sandbu (of FT) on Europe. See below as to why I am tickled by this.

She is the icon of the Liberals. So much for liberalism – one of the biggest frauds on earth. It is the same as perfect competition in economics. It exists in textbooks. There is no capitalism without competition, as a friend said – capitalism means free entry and exit and no barriers/resistance to both. What we have today is a parody of capitalism. That is how it has become progressively (pun intended) in the last thirty plus years. Similarly, what we have today is a parody of liberalism. There are no liberals though many proudly call themselves such. To understand what I mean here, read Michael Skapinker’s article today on why (so-called) moral companies do immoral things.

For some genuine liberal stuff, watch this six-minute rant by Jonathan Pie. I stumbled upon it when I checked out the Twitter handle of Jonathan Haidt. Read Mark Lilla’s ‘End of Identity Liberalism’ and read Jonathan Haidt and Ravi Iyer’s joint piece in Wall Street Journal on Nov. 10 as to transcend tribal politics (or,instincts?). I am almost done reading Jonathan Haidt’s ‘The Righteous mind’ (recommended by Nitin Pai of Takshashila Institution).

When I read Mark Lilla write the following:

The media’s newfound, almost anthropological, interest in the angry white male reveals as much about the state of our liberalism as it does about this much maligned, and previously ignored, figure. A convenient liberal interpretation of the recent presidential election would have it that Mr. Trump won in large part because he managed to transform economic disadvantage into racial rage — the “whitelash” thesis. This is convenient because it sanctions a conviction of moral superiority and allows liberals to ignore what those voters said were their overriding concerns. It also encourages the fantasy that the Republican right is doomed to demographic extinction in the long run — which means liberals have only to wait for the country to fall into their laps. The surprisingly high percentage of the Latino vote that went to Mr. Trump should remind us that the longer ethnic groups are here in this country, the more politically diverse they become.

I was reminded of the horrible piece that Martin Sandbu wrote soon after the elections were over, expressing a similar sentiment identified and highlighted above. I had blogged on it here. You can find his piece here.

Although not general, Frank Bruni has a specific message for Democrats which goes along similar lines as the earlier links.

Given how FT has covered Merkel’s announcement, it is very unlikely that FT gets it at all or ever will.

Skapinker’s truth

In his article on why moral companies do immoral things, Michael Skapinker wrote the following:

To the extent that employees may perceive their organisation to be morally superior to other organisations, they might feel licensed to ‘cut corners’ or behave somewhat unethically — for example, to give their organisation a competitive edge.

Well, unwittingly, Michael Skapinker has stumbled upon the behaviour of so-called Liberals and Do-Gooders in the world that includes some American corporations which beseech others (and used to remind itself in the past) not to be evil.

Since they ascribe superior motives and morals themselves, they feel justified in behaving immorally, unethically and unfairly towards others that they have judged to be morally inferior and dangerous human beings.

Highly convenient to them and highly dangerous to the rest of the world.