Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Victims of insularity

Victims of insularity
P. V. Indiresan

Naxalites, and defiant leaders of Kashmir and the North-East complainthat government has kept them poor. In truth, they are poor not because thegovernment has given them too little but because they have had no vision.They are insular; they do not want to be in the mainstream. They are unawareof how the world has changed. They know how to make headlines but not how tomake bread and certainly not how to make butter, says P. V. Indiresan.

HERE is a true story I got from the horse's mouth itself. A senior IASofficer made it at long last to the coveted position of Chief Secretary ofhis State. He went to convey the good news to the matriarch of the family, aninety-year-old aunt. After listening to his excited account of how he gothis promotion, the old lady blessed him with the words: "You have alwaysbeen a good boy. I knew you would do well. I pray that soon you will becometehsildar."

Like the old lady, there are many patriarchs and matriarchs among ourleaders, administrators and intellectuals who cling to ninety-year-oldideas. A small share in the dwindling and none-too-fertile surplus land isthe greatest blessing that they like to confer on our poor youth. Times havechanged; our economy has moved beyond its agrarian past, and yet the mindsethas not changed; the view is still clogged.

Within the past one week, both a senior leader of a Left party, and a topexecutive of national chamber of commerce advocated hitching the future ofour economy to agriculture. Undoubtedly, in absolute terms, agriculture isgrowing, and should grow. However, the share of agriculture in the economyis declining; it will decline even more and should do so for the good of ourpeople. If we can maintain a seven per cent growth rate, by the year 2020the share of agriculture will dwindle to 10 per cent.

Admittedly, the hope these days is not about primary agriculture but on itsmore glamorous variation of food processing. No doubt, food processingoffers better scope than agriculture by itself. Even then, the share of foodconsumption, which is currently around 50 per cent, will go down by 2020 to25-30 per cent even as the consumption of non-food items will increase fromthe current level of 50 per cent to 70 per cent or so.

There is a traditional saying in rural Karnataka that an increase in theconsumption of paan is a sign of prosperity. That is a rustic's way ofconfirming Engel's Law that in a growing economy, consumption of luxurygoods will grow faster than the consumption of necessities. Hence, if wewant to wish anyone well, we should direct them towards the production ofluxury goods. Tying them to necessities is no different from wishing a ChiefSecretary to become a tehsildar. (Some people deem luxury goods to besinful. Then, they should not complain about poverty.)
In the new vision for the backward areas - from Naxalite-infested parts ofAndhra Pradesh, to Kashmir and the North-East - economic growth is thepanacea for political ills. The government has announced large financialpackages, and creation of new jobs. Higher budgets are a sign ofquantitative progress, but they will not necessarily guarantee greaterprogress, nor will they guarantee a better quality of life.

When Kashmir or Manipur becomes more prosperous, consumption of luxury goodswill naturally increase. A smaller and smaller proportion of luxury goodswill be produced locally, and a larger and a larger share will be procuredfrom outside. To balance such purchases, the state will have to produce moregoods that are saleable outside its boundaries. Such goods will have to beglobally competitive both in cost and in quality. Backward states likeKashmir or Manipur will not graduate on their own to the global class. Theywill need new entrepreneurs, new technologies.

Money does help. However, even large sums of the kind promised will notfructify unless they are accompanied by an infusion of competententrepreneurship and competitive technology. Unfortunately, politicalleaders of backward parts of the country, whether they are from Kashmir orthe North-East or Naxal areas are allergic to outsiders however competentand valuable they may be. They are inward looking; they do not welcomeoutside talent, nor do they welcome new ideas.

In the past and in modern times too, many poor nations have grown rapidly;many others with far greater growth potential have languished or evendwindled. The nature of their culture made that difference. Bangalore andMumbai are rich because they kept their doors open; Kashmir, the North Eastand tribal areas have remained poor because they have kept their doors shut.The richest man and the richest woman in India are both in Bangalore; theyare both rank outsiders. Political leaders from backward areas complain,quite correctly too, that they have been neglected. At the same time, ifthey look honestly into their hearts, they will realise that they wereneglected because they did not welcome talent, investment and ideas fromoutside.
There is a fable of a very ambitious man who was inordinately jealous of hisneighbour. God accepted his pleas and granted all he wished but on conditionhis neighbour will get twice as much. Moved more by jealousy than byambition, the man wished that God will take away one of his eyes in theexpectation his neighbour will lose both of his. Most insurgent leaders inour country are of that type: they prefer to make others more miserable thanto make themselves happier.

Will Kashmir, or the North-East or Naxals welcome a Azim Premji or a KiranMajumdar? The Naxals have actually demanded that Infosys, Satyam Computersand the like should be thrown out and the land those firms have "grabbed"should be returned to the locals. What benefit will result if the hundredodd acres these firms have occupied, and have produced thousands of jobs,are returned to tribal farmers?

Naxal leaders had a choice: They could have asked for more investments fromInfosys and Satyam Computers and more jobs for their people knowing fullwell that would be accompanied by a large influx of outsiders; or they couldhave preferred to protect their insularity, their culture, but at the costof unending poverty. Those leaders have chosen to reject new winds fromoutside, they prefer to remain mired in poverty merely to preserve what theythink is high quality culture. Unfortunately, if they want true prosperity,those aspects of their culture are precisely those that are not worthpreserving, and deserve to be discarded.
There is little hope that these insular people will open their doors toothers. Yet, one compromise based on the Malaysian model is worth trying.For the past fifty years, Malaysia has practised vigorously the Bhumiputrapolicy of giving preference to the Malays, and ensuring that Malays retain alion's share of the economy. At the same time, they vigorously welcomedforeign investment and foreign businesses on condition that the Bhumiputrashad majority share.
That policy has worked well; from a very poor agricultural economy, Malaysiahas graduated into a vibrant industrial and service economy. By investing inMalaysia, many foreign firms have enriched themselves, probably even morethan the Bhumiputras did.
At the same time, Bhumiputras are now richer than what they would have beenotherwise. They hold their head higher than what they could have doneotherwise.
Government grants have their value; they suffer also from seriouslimitations. If backward areas want to transform themselves the way Malaysiahas done, they should welcome foreign capital - not merely financial butmore significantly human and technological.
More government jobs too will not help much either: what progress needs isnot more jobs but more work, productive work. Unfortunately, government jobsdo not necessarily translate into productive work.

It may be too late for the Central Government to rethink its offer ofoutright grants. If it is not, it should offer matching grants only; grantsmatched to what these States attract from the market. Likewise, it would notcreate ad hoc jobs but matching jobs only; matched to whatever newentrepreneurs create.

The policy should not be job creation but job multiplication: for every jobcreated by the government, private enterprise should give birth to severalothers.
Naxalites, and the defiant leaders of Kashmir and of the North-East complainthat the government has kept them poor. In truth, they are poor not becausethe government has given them too little money but because they have novision of their own. They are insular; they do not want to be in themainstream.

They want to preserve the past and are unaware of how the world outside haschanged. Like the old lady in our true story, their vision is that ofbecoming a tehsildar and no higher. Their capability too is limited: Theyknow how to make headlines but not how to make bread; certainly, they do notknow how to make butter.

(The author is a former Director of IIT Madras. Response may be sent
This is 137th in the Vision 2020 series. The last article was published onNovember 15.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Police gear up to meet naxal challenge

By Our Correspondent ADILABAD, NOV. 26. 2004

In view of the rapid developments, vis-a-vis the naxalite issue, the district police have decided to remove any ambiguity in dealing with the armed Communist Party of India (Maoist) cadre visiting villages. The Adilabad Superintendent of Police, Kripa Nand Tripathi Ujela, said; "In case we come across naxalites moving in villages with weapons the result will be exchange of fire." There have been developments in some remote villages in the district, which do not augur well for the ongoing peace process. The police accused the CPI (Maoist) of creating terror in the villages, as they were carrying arms and settling scores with the villagers. Parties despatched Already, two special parties have been despatched to Karji and Girivelli villages in Dahegaon mandal where the CPI (Maoist) naxalites were reported to have held a praja court and forced the Dahegaon Mandal Parishad president, S. Satyanarayana, and three others to resign from the Telugu Desam Party earlier this week. Read more

Incriminating documents found at encounter site

By Our Staff Reporter

KARIMNAGAR, NOV. 26. The Karimnagar police stumbled upon on some incriminating documents of naxalites belonging to the CPI (Maoist) during search operations on the outskirts of Kukkalagandi hamlet of Rudrangi village in Chandurthi mandal on Friday, the scene of exchange of fire last evening.

The Superintendent of Police, Rajiv Ratan, told newsmen said these documents threw light on extortion indulged in by naxalites. Among those recovered were account books, addresses, letters and phone numbers and telephone bills of businessmen, politicians, contractors and others who were forced to make payments to naxals, he added. Maoist literature and five kit bags were also found. ......

Naxalites Against Religious Conversions

RAIPUR, INDIA November 26, 2004: Naxalities, after vandalizing Hindu
temples, attacked Ganesha utsav mandaps (temporary festival shrines)
and ashrams in Bastar and Dantewara districts three months ago, have
turned to Christian missionaries. Naxalities, who follow Marxist
philosophy, ordered Christian missionaries to stop carrying out
"religious conversions of tribals." They ordered eight tribal families
of Markabeda village in Narainpur sub-division--who converted to
Christianity some months back, "To leave the village or risk being
'punished' for converting," a senior district official at Jagdalpur
confirmed. Most families, fearing the wrath of the Naxalites, have
taken shelter in a missionary in Narainpur. The terrified families have
reportedly asked the administration to rehabilitate them elsewhere. "If
we return, they (the Naxalities) will kill us," says a member of one of
the families. In Dantewara, Naxalities distributed pamphlets against
Christian missionaries, threatening them with dire consequences if they
were found exploiting the tribals or carrying out religious
conversions. The recent developments had sent shock waves through the
missionaries. So far, Naxalities only targeted the VHP and RSS
activists, accusing them of converting the tribals to Hinduism.
Recently, armed Naxalities had attacked Ganesha ustav mandapas in
Narainpur. A few days later, they reached an ashram and thrashed the
sadhus there.