What media missed out on in Rahul Gandhi's “escape-velocity” speech

rahul gandhi

Vivek Kaul 
Nitpicking is not a good habit I am told.
But there are times when the opportunity is too good to resist.
Rahul Gandhi in a recent speech which has become famous as the “escape velocity” speech said “
To Jupiter ki escape velocity kya hoti hai? Agar koi Jupiter pe khada hai aur Jupiter ki kheech se nikalna ho to use 60 km/sec ki acceleration chahiye. (So what is the escape velocity of Jupiter? If you are standing on Jupiter you need to go at 60 km/sec).”
Rahul had defined escape velocity a little earlier in his speech. “
Escape velocity matlab agar aap ne dharti se space mein jana hai… agar aap hamari dharti pe hai to 11.2 km per second aap ki velocity honi padegi. (There is a concept of escape velocity if you want to go into space from Earth… your velocity has to be 11.2 km/sec).”
There is a very basic flaw in this small lecture on escape velocity. Acceleration and velocity are two different concepts. As Rahul said “
Agar koi Jupiter pe khada hai aur Jupiter ki kheech se nikalna ho to use 60 km/sec ki acceleration chahiye.”
The word to be used here was velocity and not acceleration. Acceleration, as anyone who has studied basic eight standard physics will tell you, is the rate of change of velocity per unit of time. Lets consider the following table which shows the velocity of a moving object:
As we can see clearly from the above table, the velocity is constantly going up at the rate of 5 metre per second, in each second of time. Hence, the object has an acceleration of 5 metre per second squared (m/s
So that is the difference between velocity and acceleration. They are two different words, with two different meanings, which cannot be used interchangeably.
So that was the nitpicking bit.
The “escape velocity” comment has been a subject of lot of ridicule since it was first made. But there was a bigger joke in Rahul Gandhi’s speech, which people haven’t latched onto. He recounted a story that his late grandmother Indira Gandhi had told him about how s
he had cheered a team playing an ice hockey match against Germany, which was then ruled by Adolf Hitler. As Rahul said “It was a match between Germany and some other team. The other team was being thrashed and the crowds were cheering….My grandmother (Indira Gandhi) felt very bad and got up to cheer the weak team, but was shouted at. She sat down out of fear.” (As reported in The Time of India)
“The whole stadium (full of Germans) shouted against her. She sat down in fear but decided that never again in her life she will ever sit down in fear… If somebody is doing anything wrong never sit down,” Rahul said (
As reported in The Telegraph). This it seems had an impact on Indira Gandhi and she resolved never again to be cowed down, while doing what she thought was right.
This is the bigger joke in the speech. Indira Gandhi only did those things that ensured that she continued to be in power. She destroyed the democratic institutions in this country. The lack of governance today in India is because of all that she did when she was the Prime Minister. 
As Gurucharan Das told me in an interview last year “The damage that Indira Gandhi did was far greater. Her license raj combined with the mai baap sarkar, this double whammy gave the illusion to the people that the state would do everything…The second was the damage she did to our political institutions…During the period she was the Prime Minister, I think she dismissed fifty nine elected governments in states…She tried to change India’s culture and change our political system. A lot has been written about the emergency and so on. But the enduring damage we don’t realise. Before her, Chief Ministers were a little afraid when a secretary said no sir you can’t do this. And if you tried to do it, the secretary wouldn’t bend very often. Now they just transfer…Also after Indira Gandhi the police became a handmaiden of the executive. The police lost its independence.  Even the judiciary was damaged. She wanted committed judges.”
Other than destroying the democratic institutions of this country she turned the Congress party, into a party which thrives on 
chamchas and chamchagiri. Historian and writer  Ramachandra Guha explains this in an essay titled A Short History of Congress Chamchagiri which is a part of his book Patriots and Partisans.“Most Indians are too young to know this, but the truth is that until about 1969 the Congress was more or less a democratic party,” writes Guha.
Indira Gandhi had been planning to settle in Great Britain. After Nehru died in May 1964, she was invited to join the cabinet as the minister of information and broadcasting by Lal Bahadur Shastri who took over as the next prime minister.
“When Shastri died in January 1966, Mrs Gandhi was, to her own surprise, catapulted into the post of the prime minister. There were other and better candidates for the job, but the Congress bosses (notably K Kamraj) thought that they could more easily control a lady they thought to be a 
gungi gudiya (dumb doll),“ writes Guha.
But she was not a 
gungi gudia and made all the right moves to consolidate her power and finally split the Congress party in 1969 and what was a essentially a decentralised and democratic party till that point of time became an extension of the whims, fancies and insecurities of a single individual.
Thus started an era of 
chamchas and chamchagiri in the Congress. Dev Kant Baruah who was the President of the Congress Party between 1975 and 1977 went to the extent of saying “Indira is India and India is Indira”. What was loyalty to the party earlier became loyalty to the individual and the family.
Also, Indira Gandhi took total control over the system effectively overriding democracy and imposing emergency on June 26, 1975. During this period she also formed a mini government within the government. This effort was led by her PN Haksar, her civil service secretary.
As veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar recounts in 
Emergency Retold “Haksar…organised the system in such a way that everything would revolve around the prime minister’s secretariat. Not even a deputy secretary was appointed without its concurrence. He set up a mini government…Haksar’s main contribution was that he politicized the setup, in the sense that for the first time in the country’s post independence history, government machinery came to be used for political purposes, if need be for Congress party purposes.”
The prime minister’s office is currently run by Pulok Chatterjee, who was earlier the officer on special duty to Sonia Gandhi.
Getting back to the emergency, Indira’s mini government had total control over how the system worked. A 
famous cartoon made by Abu showed President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed in his bath during the emergency signing ordinances and saying “if there are any more ordinances just ask them to wait.”
Indira Gandhi also ensured that the Congress party effectively became a family run concern. As Guha writes in the essay 
Verdicts on Nehru “Mrs Gandhi converted the Indian National Congress into a family business. She first bought in her son Sanjay, and after his death, his brother Rajiv. In each case, it was made clear that the son would succeed Mrs Gandhi as head of Congress and head of government.”
Once the model was established firmly in the Congress party, it spread to most other political parties. “Indira Gandhi’s embrace of the dynastic principle for the Congress served as a ready model for other parties to emulate…The DMK was once the proud party of Dravidian nationalism and social reform; it is now the private property of M Karunanidhi and his children…Likewise, for all his professed commitment to Maharashtrian pride and Hindu nationalism Shiv Sena leader, Bal Thackeray could look no further than his son. The Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Janta Dal claimed to stand for ‘social justice’, but the leadership of Mulayam’s party passed onto his son and in Lalu’s party to his wife,” writes Guha.
In doing what she did Indira Gandhi basically destroyed Indian democracy. Indeed, if she had not done what she did, Rahul Gandhi would not be the vice-president of the Congress party. He would at best be a middle level manager of a private sector company (as Guha puts it). Rahul Gandhi is honest enough to realise this. In October 2008, while addressing girl students at a resort near Jim Corbett National Park, Rahul Gandhi referred to “politics” as a closed system in India. “If I had not come from my family, I wouldn’t be here. You can enter the system either through family or friends or money. Without family, friends or money, you cannot enter the system. My father was in politics. My grandmother and great grandfather were in politics. So, it was easy for me to enter politics. This is a problem. I am a symptom of this problem.”
Hence, it is not surprising Rahul is inspired by what his grandmother, Indira Gandhi, told him. If it was not for her, he would be largely irrelevant today. He would pop up in the media once in a while, as a subject of stories on what are the descendants of Indira Gandhi doing today. Meanwhile, Rahul’s “bigger” joke, I talked about initially, is really on us, the citizens of this country.

(Vivek Kaul is the author of Easy Money. He tweets @kaul_vivek) 

With mai-baap sarkar, 8-9% GDP growth is a pipedream

Vivek Kaul
The economists are at it again. Doing what they are good at i.e. building castles in the air.
The Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council (EAC) headed by Dr C Rangarajan released their 
review of the economy in 2012/13, yesterday. One of the things that the Council points out in this report is “If we (i.e. India) grow at 8 to 9 % per annum, we will graduate to the level of a middle income country by 2025.It is once again a faster rate of growth which will enable us to meet many of our important socio-economic objectives.”
While 8-9% economic growth is a noble thought, what is the chance of it happening given the current state of affairs in the country? The answer is that the situation doesn’t look very good.
The EAC expects an economic growth of 6.4% in 2013-2014 (the period between April 1, 2013 and March 31, 2014).
Sustained long term economic growth is very rare. As Ruchir Sharma points out in 
Breakout Nations – In Pursuit of the Next Economic Miracles “Very few nations achieve long-term rapid growth. My own research shows that over the course of any given decade since 1950, only one-third of emerging markets have been able to grow at an annual rate of 5% or more. Less than one-fourth have kept that pace up for two decades, and one tenth for three decades. Just six countries (Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Hong Kong) have maintained the rate of growth for four decades, and two (South Korea and Taiwan) have done so for five decades.”
In fact India and China which have been among the fastest growing countries over the last ten years are totally new to this class. “During the 1950s and the 1960s the biggest emerging markets – China and India – were struggling to grow at all. Nations like Iran, Iraq, and Yemen put together long strings of strong growth, but those strings came to a halt with the outbreak of war…In the 1960s, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Burma were billed as the next East Asian tigers, only to see their growth falter badly,” writes Sharma.
The point is that economic growth cannot be taken for granted. There is a lot that can go wrong and it does. In the Indian context that is already coming out to be true. The economic growth rate has fallen from 8-9% to the level of around 5% for the year 2012-2013 (the period between April 1, 2012 and March 31,2013). As the EAC report released yesterday points out “In August 2012, the EAC had projected a likely growth rate for the economy of 6.7 %…At the end of the fiscal year (i.e. as on March 31, 2013)…the actual growth rate at around 5% is much lower than what was projected.”
Different countries have followed different formulas for sustained economic growth at different points of time. But one thing that has almost always killed economic growth is the premature construction of a welfare state, which the Congress led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has at the top of its agenda.
As Sharma writes “It was easy enough for India to increase spending in the midst of a global boom, but the spending has continued to rise in the post-crisis period. Inspired by the popularity of the employment guarantees, the government now plans to spend the same amount extending food subsidies to the poor. If the government continues down this path, India may meet the same fate as Brazil in the late 1970s, when excessive government spending set off hyperinflation and crowded out private investment, ending the country’s economic boom.”
Countries that now run big welfare states have done so after many years of high economic growth. As Gurucharan Das points out in 
India Grows at Night “India’s leaders did not modernise or expand the capability of its institutions. They forgot that western democracies had taken more than hundred years of economic growth and capacity building to achieve the welfare state.”
While extending subsidies to the poor is a noble idea, the thing is it does not work over a period of time. 
A recent discussion paper put out by the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP), Ministry of Agriculture, seems to suggest the same. The paper finds that real farm wages (i.e. growth in wages adjusted for inflation) grew by 3.7% per year in the 1990s. This growth fell to 2.1% per year in 2000s. “The results (of the analysis) points to the fact that a ‘pull strategy’ is more desirable than a ‘push strategy’, meaning growth-oriented investments are likely to be a better bet for raising rural wages and lowering poverty than the welfare-oriented MGNREGS (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme),” the paper pointed out.
The paper also suggests that growth oriented “investments would have raised the growth rates in these sectors, and ‘pulled’ the real farm wages through a natural process of development, whereby wages increase broadly in line with rising labour productivity.” So it is very clear that the governments much touted rural employment guarantee scheme is not really working. The incomes of farmers would have grown much faster had the government simply stayed away.
The other thing all these subsidies (which include oil subsidies which form the bulk of the total subsidies) have done is that it has pushed up government borrowing. “The total public-debt to GDP ratio is now 70% – among the highest for any major developing country,” writes Sharma. “The development of this habit – deficit spending in good times as well as bad – was a major contributor to the current debt problems in the United States and Western Europe, and India can ill afford it.” This is something that the politicians who run India seem to have totally forgotten about.
Increased government borrowing has also led to high interest rates. This has a huge impact on consumption as well as business expansion and in turn pulled down economic growth. The investment by Indian businesses has fallen from 17% of GDP in 2008 to 13% in 2012.
The media has recently been reporting about the finance minister P Chidambaram travelling to different parts of the world soliciting investors to put money in India. And this is happening at a time when more and more Indian companies are setting up businesses abroad. “At a time when India needs its businessmen to reinvest more aggressively at home in order for the country to hit its growth target of 8 to 9 %, they are looking abroad. Overseas operations of Indian companies now account for more than 10% of overall corporate profitability, compared with 2% just five years ago. Given the potential of the Indian domestic market, Indian companies should not need to chase growth abroad,” writes Sharma.
This makes one wonder that if Indian companies are not ready to invest in India, why would foreigners want to do the same? It need not be said that doing business in India has become more and more difficult over the years.
Gurucharan Das in 
India Grows at Night recounts the experience of a businessman friend of his Navin Parikh. “’Not a week goes by,’ Navin said, ‘without an inspector from some department or the other coming for his hafta vasooli, “weekly bribe”. Labour, excise, fire, police, octroi, sales tax, boilers and more – we have to keep them all happy. Otherwise, they make life hell. More than 10% of my costs are in “managing the system”.”
Given this it is not surprising that more and more Indian businesses are happy going abroad rather than investing in India. And if this continues to happen India’s economic growth will continue to flounder.
The Economic Survey points out that agriculture accounts for 58% of the employment in the country. But this 58% produces only 16% of the country’s GDP. So it is basically a no-brainer to suggest that India needs more industries and businesses, so that people can move out of agriculture. And that cannot happen without the government getting its act right. While a spate of economic reforms, from land to labour, are the need of the hour, but there is something which is more important than even that.
The government of India needs to limit its ambitions. As Sunil Khilnani writes in 
The idea of India “The state was enlarged, its ambitions inflated, and it was transformed from a distant alien object into one that aspired to infiltrate the everyday life of Indians, proclaiming itself responsible for everything they could desire.”
This anomaly needs to be corrected. The idea of 
mai-baap sarkar needs to go. Unless that happens, continuous 8-9% economic growth will continue to remain an idea in the heads of economists and politicians.

The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on April 25, 2013
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He tweets @kaul_vivek)

What Rahul Gandhi can learn from Margaret Thatcher

margaret-thatcherVivek Kaul
The iconic British band Pink Floyd once sang a song called Pigs(three different ones). The song written by Roger Waters was a part of the band’s 1977 album Animals. 
A part of the second paragraph of the song goes like this:
You f****d up old hag, ha ha charade you are.
You radiate cold shafts of broken glass.
You’re nearly a good laugh,
Almost worth a quick grin…
These lines ‘supposedly’ take pot-shots at Margaret Thatcher, who was then the Leader of Opposition in Great Britain. Two years later she would take over as Prime Minister and become the longest serving British prime minister of the twentieth centenary.
But the protests against her would never really die down as she went around dismantling the welfare state that Great Britain had evolved into. In the process she caused a lot of pain to the British citizens. Waters and Pink Floyd would in their 1983 album 
The Final Cut, take more direct pot-shots at her and sing “Oh Maggie, Maggie what have we done?”.
When Thatcher took over as the British prime minister in 1979, Great Britain was plagued with high inflation. Businesses were not doing well as unions had grown to be very strong and workers went on strikes regularly. The government itself had bloated to the extent that it determined compensation for a third of the nation’s workforce.
In the aftermath of the Second World War, British politicians had embarked on industrial nationalisation and also introduced a welfare state. As The Economist points out “To a generation of politicians scarred by the mass unemployment of the 1930s, full employment became the overriding object of political life…But to keep employment “full”, successive governments, Labour and Conservative, had to intervene ever more minutely in the economy, from setting wages to dictating prices.” When the government tries to do too many things, it inevitably ends up making a mess. And that’s what happened in Britain as well.
Thatcher went around breaking down the structure of the welfare state that had emerged. As 
The Economist points out “Government spending was curbed to control the money supply…Industrial subsidies were cut, sending many firms to the wall.”
This went totally against the prevailing conventional wisdom. As the Financial Times points out “Against all conventional wisdom, she took an axe to public spending. At one celebrated meeting she even demanded an extra £1bn cut in spite of warnings from those present that the country would fall apart.”
Other than cutting down on government spending she also went around limiting the role of the government in the society as an employer as well as a decision maker. “Mrs Thatcher set about reforming the inner workings of the welfare state, attempting to introduce competition among health and education “providers” and to hand day-to-day decision-making to schools, hospitals and family doctors (thereby side-lining hated local-government bureaucrats),” writes 
The Economist.
She also started selling shares in government companies and made it an important source of revenue for the government. “I
n 1980-81 more than £400m was raised from selling shares in companies such as Ferranti and Cable and Wireless. Later came North Sea oil (Britoil) and British Ports, and from late 1984 the major sales of British Telecom, British Gas and British Airways, culminating at the end of the decade in water and electricity. By this time these sales were raising more than £5bn a year,” The Guardian writes.
She also purposefully went around breaking the big unions and told the world that Britain was a great place to invest in. 

But these steps had a few negative repercussions initially. As industrial subsidies were cut nearly 10,000 businesses went bankrupt and by 1981 more than 3 million Britishers were unemployed. Interest rates rose to a record 22%. The government spending cuts created further trouble for the economy.
Yet things started to improve and by 1983, inflation had fallen to under 4% from a record 22%. By 1985, for the first time since the 1960s, the British government would not run a fiscal deficit. With all these steps Margaret Thatcher was able to revive a moribund British economy, and set it back on track again. She would later say “I came to office with one deliberate intent…To change Britain from a dependent to a self-reliant society, from a give-it-to-me to a do-it-yourself nation.”
Here is something that every Indian politician can learn something from. India right now is facing problems remarkably similar to what Great Britain did when Thatcher took over as prime minister (though Britain was a developed country then and India is not).
Inflation is at more than 10%. Business confidence is low. The various unions work in the interest of the workers employed in the organised sector (like they are expected to) and this has hurt a much larger number of those working in the unorganised sector. The much touted 
Panchayati Raj hasn’t worked. As Gurucharan Das writes in India Grows at Night “Most states sensing a loss of power, have resisted giving financial independence to panchyats and municipalities.”
The UPA led Congress government has turned India into a welfare state by giving out subsidies. The total government expenditure for the year 2013-2014 (the period between April 1, 2013 and March 31, 2014) is projected to be at Rs 16,65,297 crore. This has increased by 134% since 2007-2008 (the period between April 1, 2007 and March 31, 2008) when it stood at Rs 7,12,671 crore.
The government is not earning enough to meet this increased expenditure. In the process its fiscal deficit, or the difference between what a government earns and what it spends, is expected to go up by around 327% to Rs 5,42,499 crore in 2013-2014 from 2007-2008.
This has meant that the government has had to borrow more and more to make up for the difference between what it earns and what it spends. Increased borrowing by the government has led to higher interest rates, as it leaves a lesser amount of money for banks and other financial institutions to borrow from. Increased government spending is in turn also responsible for high inflation and even higher food inflation. (For a more detailed argument read here).
The solutions to these problems are similar to what Margaret Thatcher did in Great Britain. One way of lesser government as well as bringing down the fiscal deficit is selling shares in public sector units. While efforts have been made on this front, the process remains remarkably slow. And on occasions the public interest in buying shares of these companies has been so low that the government has forced the Life Insurance Corporation of India to buy a bulk of these shares being sold. The government needs to be more active on this front.
Government spending needs to be cut as well and if not cut, at least controlled. The subsidies being doled out under programmes like NREGA are turning India into a give-it-to-me dependant nation. They have also fuelled high inflation. As Das writes “We need to be humbler in our ambition and our ability to re-engineer society…If the state could only enable access to good schools and health care, equity would follow.”
The government has tried to improve the education scenario by bringing in The Right to Education Act. One part of the act states that there will be no examination. This has increased the complacency among teachers and led to the learning process becoming even worse.
As Arvind Panagaria wrote in a recent edit in 
The Times of India “The latest Annual Status of Education Report 2012 (ASER 2012), published by NGO Pratham, documents an all-around sharp decline in student achievements from levels that were already low. In just two years between 2010 and 2012, percentage of fifth graders in public schools who can read second grade-level text has declined from 50.7% to 41.7%…Percentage of fifth graders who could do a simple two-digit subtraction with borrowing has fallen from 70.9% to 53.5% in two years.”
Why is this the case? As economist Abhijit Banerjee put it when he spoke at a literary festival in Mumbai in November 2012 “ Under the Right to Education every year you are supposed to cover the syllabus…It doesn’t matter whether the children understand anything. Think of all the class IV children who cant read. They are learning social studies and all kinds of other wonderful things except they can’t read…They are sitting in a class watching some movie in some foreign language without subtitles.”
And the solution as Banerjee pointed out is very simple. “We did one experiment in Bihar which was with the government school teachers. The teachers were asked that instead of teaching like they usually do, their job for the next six weeks was to get the children to learn some basic skills. They can’t read teach them to read. If they can’t do math teach them to do math. After end of six weeks the children had closed half the gap between the best performing children and the worst performing children. They had really improved enormously,” Banjeree pointed out.
The trouble of course is that the government is looking for perfect solutions, when it legislates. Be it the subsidies doled out under NREGA or education for all under the Right to Education. But perfect as they say is the enemy of good.
Perfect solutions also make the government bloated and turn it into a limitless state or what in more colloquial terms is known as a 
mai baap sarkar. Big governments and welfare states don’t work, that has proven time and again. And even western democracies which have become a welfare state have done so after nearly 100 years of economic growth.
rahul gandhi
Margaret Thatcher knew this very well and she went around systematically dismantling it. And this is something that Rahul Gandhi can learn from her. In his recent speech at the Confederation of Indian Industries, Gandhi said “A rising tide doesn’t raise people who don’t have a boat. We have to help build the boat for them.”
Very true. But what the Congress led UPA government is trying to do is exactly the opposite. Instead of helping people to build the boat. It is trying to give them free boats. And that has f****ed up the whole economy (with due apologies to Pink Floyd).
To conclude let me share a very interesting anecdote about Margaret Thatcher which I happened to read in the obituary 
The Economist wrote on her.
This is how it goes:
“As she(i.e. Thatcher) prepared to make her first leader’s speech to the Conservative Party conference in 1975, a speechwriter tried to gee her up by quoting Abraham Lincoln:
You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
You cannot help the wage-earner by pulling down the wage-payer
When he had finished, Mrs Thatcher fished into her handbag to extract a piec of ageing newspaper with the same lines on it. “It goes wherever I go,” she told him.”
This is something that Rahul Gandhi should really think about.
The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on April 10, 2013. 

 (Vivek Kaul is a writer. He tweets @kaul_vivek)

Shinde-speak shows all that is wrong with the government

13-sushil-kumar-shinde-300Vivek Kaul
A few things that home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said today tell us very clearly what is wrong with the approach of the Indian government to the recent public protests in Delhi against the rape of a 23 year old woman. 
If we meet students today, tomorrow we may have to meet Maoists
First and foremost how can the home minister of the world’s largest democracy say something as casual as this. At one go he has associated the students and the general public protesting in Delhi to Maoists who kill people day in and day out. The liberal historian and writer Ramachandra Guha told me in a recent interview that Naxalism is one of the biggest threats facing the country right now. Mr Shinde wants us to believe that the protests in Delhi are as big a threat as a Naxalism? How crazy can that be?
The second point that comes out here is that if the government does not come out and meet the Maoists (or Naxals as they are more popularly called) who else will? But Mr Shinde seems to be so comfortable in his bungalow in Lutyens Delhi that for him Naxalism might even be something that exists in a foreign country that is not India.
Or how else do you explain his statement “when 100 adivasis are killed in Gadchiroli, should the government go there?” Yes minister, the government should go there. If people of this country are being killed the government has to make every effort to stop it.

They are throwing stones at the police
This was Shinde’s explanation on why the police started lathi-charging and tear gassing the citizens of this nation who had gathered to protest. As a Delhi police commissioner put it “hooligans have taken over this protest.”
But as usual there are two sides to the story. As Shuddhabrata Sengupta writes in a column “The violence began, not when protesters threw stones, but when the police started attacking people. Stones were thrown in retaliation. The television cameras that recorded what happened show us the exact chronology. The police were clearly under orders not to let people up Raisina Hill. Why? What is so sacred about Raisina Hill? Why can a group of unarmed, peaceful young people not walk to the gates of the president’s palace?”
Shinde wants us to believe that the force was used to protect the Rashtrapati Bhavan which is built on top Raisina Hill.
Let me just deviate a little here. A few years back George Bush visited London. This was the time when War on Terror was at its peak. Bush had to meet Tony Blair at his 10 Downing Street residence cum office. While the meeting of Bush and Blair was on, Britishers protesting against the War on Terror and the indiscriminate bombing of Iraq, were allowed to pass through 10 Downing Street, shouting their version of “
Bush-Blair hai hai!”.
Why can’t that happen in India? Is Pranab Mukherjee’s security risk greater than that of the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Great Britain put together?
Assuming even if the protesters threw the first stone did that mean that male policemen should have been allowed to go around mercilessly beating up women and senior citizens? The police behaved along expected lines having long been a hand maiden of the government. As Gurucharan Das told me in an interview earlier this year “after Indira Gandhi the police became a handmaiden of the executive. The police lost its independence.”
Also why was there no effort made to engage with the protesters while they were there? Other than some statements being made by the junior home minister, whom no one had heard about till a few days back, almost nothing credible came from the Union Government.
In his address to the nation today Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is heard saying 
theek hai at the end of his speech. Did the Prime Minister really believe in what he was saying or was it just an act that he was putting on? A scene from a movie at the end of which the director says cut, and the actor asks “theek hai? ya ek bar aur karte hain? (was it good enough? or shall we do it once more?)”
When Sonia ji herself had met protesters, they should have been happy
This statement of Shinde is the world view of a member of the Congress party whose be all and end all in life is to get a darshan from the lady herself. The allegiance of a Congressman like Shinde is to the Gandhi family and not the nation and public which elects them to seats of power.
As Tavleen Singh writes in her new book Durbar “Years later, the ultimate subscriber to the idea of democratic feudalism, Mani Shankar Aiyar, admitted in a television interview with Karan Thapar that the party was just not proud of its dynasty but knew that it was the ‘adhesive’ that held things together.” As a Facebook/Twitter joke going around puts it “What Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement from ODIs tells us is that everything comes to an end, except the Gandhi dynasty.”
Getting back to the point, what does meeting of the protesters with Sonia Gandhi have to do with the issue at all? And if protesters feel like continuing their protest even after meeting Mrs Gandhi what does it tell us? It tells us that the assurances even from the lady who runs this country by ‘remote control’ weren’t convincing enough for the protesters to stop protesting.
When political parties protest, call bands, damage public property, burn buses and try to shut down the country, the police conveniently look the other way, but when some people in Delhi want to protest it becomes a security threat to the President? And they police respond by lathi charging, pushing the media out of the scene and shutting down metro stations. The politicians of this country keep reminding us time and again that we are the world’s largest democracy. If we are the world’s largest democracy then why are we shutting down metro stations?
Varchasva” a word in Hindi which best describes the situation at hand. The closest English translation of the word is “absolute power”. And absolute power makes people behave in the way the government of India led by Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh is currently behaving.

The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on December 24, 2012.
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at [email protected]

Rajat Gupta may never have got convicted in India

Vivek Kaul
Rajat Gupta will be spending two years in prison, which will be followed by one year of supervised release (The supervised release starts after a person is released from prison. After the release the individual goes through a period of supervision in the community. You can read the complete definition here). Gupta will also have to pay a fine of $5million.
Gupta, a former managing director of management consultancy McKinsey & Company, who happened to marry the only girl in his IIT Delhi batch, and a member of the boards of Goldman Sachs and Proctor and Gamble, had been accused of passing on sensitive board room information to hedge fund manager Raj Rajaratnam. The information leaked by Gupta turned out to be enormously profitable stock tips for Rajaratnam. Rajaratnam is currently serving 11 years in jail for securities fraud.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (the stock market regulator in the United States) had filed an administrative civil complaint on March 1, 2011, against Gupta for insider trading with Rajaratnam who ran the Galleon Group of hedge funds. The case from start to finish lasted for a period of around twenty months. The dispensation of justice was fast and quick and it did not take a life time as it does in India.
Take the case of Lalit Narayan Mishra who was the Cabinet Minister for Railways. On January 2, 1975, Mishra was in Samastipur to declare open the broad gauge railway line between Samstipur and Muzaffarpur. A bomb exploded and he was seriously injured. He died the next day.
The case against the accused is still on, thirty seven years later. Eight people were accused in the case. One has of them has since died. As Gurcharan Das writes in India Grows At Night–A Liberal Case for a Strong State “The case against the accused dragged on for thirty-seven years…Meanwhile, thirty one of the thirty-nine witnesses for the defence had died gravely prejudging the case…No less than twenty-two different judges had heard the case over the years. The trial was still going in 2012.”
And there are other cases in which justice is delivered after a generation has passed in the meanwhile. In 1992, four teams of government officials landed up in the adivasi village of Vachathi in search of the sandalwood smuggler Veerapan. On not finding him there the government officials accused the villagers of harbouring Veerapan. The officials took 18 teenage girls from the village into the forest where they were stripped and raped. 133 villagers were arrested and put in jail as well.
Justice was delivered only 19 years later. As Das writes “On the sweltering afternoon of 29 September 2011, principal district judge S Kumarguru began to hand out sentences. There was a hushed silence in the packed courtroom in Dharmapuri, Tamil Nadu. He began at 3.30pm but could not finish until 4.40pm because he had to read aloud punishments awarded to 215 government officials. Among those convicted were 126 forest officials, 84 policemen and five revenue officials. Seventeen were convicted of rape and they received prison sentence from seven to seventeen years; others received from one to three years on counts of torture, unlawful restraint, looting and misuse of office.” Fifty four accused had died in the meanwhile.
Since delivery of justice takes so long, frivolous cases are filed to cut short promising careers. S Nambi Narayanan’s case is a very good example of the same. Narayanan was a senior official in charge of the cryogenics division of the Indian Space Research Organisation. In 1994, he was accused of espionage. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) concluded as early as 1996 that the entire case was a fabrication. The National Human Rights Commission ordered an interim compensation of Rs 10 lakh for Narayanan in 2001. The Kerala government got a stay against this order. The stay was finally vacated by the high court on September 7, 2012. In the meanwhile a lifetime had passed. (You can read the complete details of the case here).
The system is also used to their advantage by those who do not like the idea of working. The famous case of Uttam Nakate a helper at Bharat Forge illustrates this point. Nakate was found sleeping at the workplace at 11.40am in the morning in early 1984. This was the fourth occasion this had happened. The company started proceedings against him under the Industrial Employment Act, 1946, found him guilty and dismissed him.
Nakate then appealed to the Maharashtra labour court and challenged his dismissal under the category of an unfair trade practice. The labour court directed that Nakate be taken back and at the same time also be given 50% of his wages. The company then appealed to an industrial tribunal which struck down the decision of the labour court. Nakate then went to the Bombay High Court which decided in his favour and also directed the company to pay him Rs 2.5 lakh. The case finally made its way to the Supreme Court which ruled in the company’s favour. The two judges on the case said “we cannot say the quantum of punishment imposed was wholly disproportionate to his act of misconduct”. If all this would have happened in a period of 20 months or so as it did in Gupta’s case in the US, things would have been fine. By the time the Supreme Court decision came in 2005, two decades had passed.
But the people who gain the most from the way our judicial system has evolved are the politicians. Take the case of former telecom minister Sukh Ram. In 1996, the CBI had seized Rs 3.6 crore from his official residence which he had collected as a bribe in awarding a telecom contract.  The case dragged on for years and Sukh Ram was finally found guilty in late 2011, nearly a decade and a half later. By this time Sukh Ram was 85 years old and in hospital.
“If this happened in the case of Cabinet ministers, where was the hope of justice for an ordinary person? But former chief justice of the Supreme Court J.S.Verma had a different take. He claimed that although Article 21 of the Constitution guaranteed a speedy trial to every citizen, in reality the status of the person did matter. A powerful person with connections or money could speed up or delay the justice system to suit his needs,” writes Das.
Look at what happened to the Ruchika Girhotra case. The accused SPS Rathore got out of the courtroom smiling in December 2009, after a six months sentence was announced and he got bail immediately.
The late Harshad Mehta is another brilliant example of the system gone wrong. The scam he was running on the Bombay Stock Exchange was revealed in 1992. He died of a heart attack in a Thane jail on the last day of 2001. When he died Mehta was facing trial in 28 cases but had been convicted only in one case which involved the use of funds to the tune of Rs 30 crore belonging to the Maruti Udyog being used in the stock market. All the other cases were pending.
The economist Bibek Debroy carried out a project for the government in the 1990s and found out that nearly 2.5 crore cases were pending in Indian courts. This number has gone up to 3.2 crore since then. Debroy found that it takes up to twenty years to settle a dispute. And it would take nearly 324 years to settle all the cases. Debroy further suggested that a major reason for the huge number of cases was the fact that a large number of laws were simply obsolete. As Das writes “He also concluded that 500 out of the 3500 central laws were obsolete and needed to be scrapped, and half of the 30,000 state laws as well.”
But this was not a major reason for the large number of cases in the Indian court. “The main culprit of the judicial delay was the government, which appealed all judgements automatically and proceeded to lose them again in the higher courts. This crowded out the private individual. The problem lay in the fact that the decision to litigate was made at the lowest level in the bureaucracy but the decision not to litigate was made at the highest level. If this process were simply reversed, government litigation would come down,” writes Das. So for the burden on the Indian judicial system to come down, the tendency of the government to litigate left, right and centre, also needs to come down.
Now let’s get back to Rajat Gupta. What would have happened to Rajat Gupta if he was accused of a similar wrong doing in India? Being at the position that he is he could have easily influenced the judicial system. The case would have dragged on for 20 years. And by the time it would have reached the Supreme Court, Rajat Gupta, like Sukhram now, would have been 85 years old by then and more or less lived his life. Gupta is around 64 years old now.
Of course all this would have happened only assuming that Gupta would have been taken to court for what he did. Passing on stock tips to fund managers isn’t really a big deal in an Indian context. Harshad Mehta who carried out a far bigger scam than what Gupta has been accused of in the United States (actually it’s not even a comparison) got convicted in only one case between 1992 and 2001. And even that wasn’t one of the main cases. And what ever happened to Ketan Parekh and his scams? Look at Sahara and the excuses it keeps coming up with for not paying back the Rs 24,000 crore it owes to its 3 crore investors, the latest one being that 90% of its investors do not have bank accounts. This, despite being directed by the Supreme Court to payback its investors. Even their latest excuse doesn’t quite work. When the Sahara collected the money even then their investors mustn’t have had bank accounts? So if it could collect the money, it should also be able to return it.
What all this tell us is that India is a weak state which cannot enforce things. Das summarises it best when he writes “Weak enforcement is at the heart of a weak state in which the most vulnerable and the weakest are its chief victims.”
The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on October 26, 2012. http://www.firstpost.com/business/rajat-gupta-may-never-have-got-convicted-in-india-503668.html
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at [email protected])