The history lesson Rahul Gandhi needs to take from Shashi Tharoor

Rahul Gandhi is turning out to be a fan of trashy Hindi films of the 70s and 80s. A few days back he spoke about ma ke aansoo(tears of his mother) and yesterday it was the turn of khandan ka balidan (the sacrifices of his family). “My grandmother was killed. My father was assassinated and perhaps I may also be killed one day. I am not bothered. I had to tell you what I felt from the heart,” he said yesterday.
While, Rahul Gandhi might have been talking from his heart, it is important to understand here that his grandmother and his father were killed because of monsters they managed to create.
Indira Gandhi did not like non Congress governments being elected to power in states. Either she dismissed them or created problems for them. She ultimately had to pay a price for this. In 1977, the Akali Dal party had been elected to power in Punjab. The Akali Dal was an ally of the Janata Party which had won the 1977 Lok Sabha elections and managed to throw Indira Gandhi out of power. She came back to power in 1980 and started to create problems for the Akalis.
Shashi Tharoor, the current minister of state for human resources development, documents this rather well in 
India – From Midnight to the Millennium. As he writes “In 1977, the Congress Party had been ousted in Punjab by the Sikh Akali Dal Party, an ally of Janata; Mrs Gandhi typically decided to undermine them from the quarter they least expected, by opponents even more Sikh than the Akalis. So she encouraged (and reportedly even initially financed) the extremist fanaticism of a Sikh fundamentalist leader Jarnail Singh Bhindarwale. Bhindarwale soon tired of assassinating clean shaven Sikhs for their apostasy and instead took up the cause of an independent Sikh state, Khalistan,” writes Tharoor.
Ramachandra Guha alludes to the link between Indira Gandhi and Bhindarwale in 
India After Gandhi. As he writes “By some accounts, Bhindarwale was built by Sanjay Gandhi and the union home minister Zail Singh (himself a former chief minister of Punjab) as a counter to the Akalis. Writing in September 1982 the journalist Ayesha Kagal remarked that the preacher(i.e. Bhindarwale) ‘was originally a product nurtured and marketed by the Centre to cut into the Akali Dal’s ‘sphere of influence’. The key word here is ‘originally’. For whoever it was who first promoted him, Bhindarwale quickly demonstrated his own independent charisma and influence. To him were attracted many Jats of a peasant background who had seen the gains of the Green Revolution being cornered by the landowners. Other followers came from the lower Sikh castes of artisans and labourers.”
Bhindarwale soon started operating out of the Golden Temple. As Guha writes “He(i.e. Bhindarwale) had acquired a group of devoted gun-totting followers who acted as his acolytes and bodyguards and, on occasion, as willing and unpaid killers.”
The situation soon got out of hand and Indira Gandhi had to send the army into the Golden temple where terrorists led by Bhindarwale were holed in. In fact, Bhindarwale had moved into the Akal Takht(the throne of the timeless one), from where the Sikh gurus had issued their 
hukumnamas, which the Sikhs were supposed to follow.
“Mrs Gandhi had little choice but to destroy the monster she had herself spawned, and she finally violated a basic tenet of the Indian state by sending armed troops into a place of worship, the historic Golden Temple in Amritsar, to flush out terrorists holed up there,” writes Tharoor.
Bhindarwale was killed in the fighting that followed the Indian army entering the Golden Temple. Tavleen Singh recounts a conversation she had with General K.S. ‘Bulbul’ Brar who was directly incharge of what came to be known as Operation Bluestar, in her book 
Here is how the conversation went:

‘Is the Sant (i.e. Bhindarwale) dead?’
‘How did he die?’ ‘Crossfire. Early in the morning on the second day he walked out of the Akal Takht with General Shabeg and Amrik Singh, and they fell.’
‘Did the fighting stop immediately after that?’
‘It did. But we lost a lot of men…and the Akal Takht is badly damaged. We had to use tanks and heavy artillery. It was a mess.’
‘In the villages they say Sant is still alive. Where is the rumour coming from?’
General Brar frowned and looked wearily at his officers. ‘This is a problem,’ he said, ‘we’re not sure how to deal with it. He’s dead.’

The attack on the Golden Temple proved to be a disastrous move. As Tharoor points out “The assault on the Golden Temple deeply alienated many Sikhs whose patriotism was unquestionable; the Gandhi family’s staunchest ally in the independent press, the Sikh editor Khushwant Singh, returned his national honours to the government, and a battalion of Sikhs, the backbone of the army, mutinied.”
The attack on the Golden Temple ultimately led to the assassination of Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984. “Mrs Gandhi never understood the extent to which so many Sikhs saw Bluestar as a betrayal. She refused to draw the conclusions her security advisers did, and to her credit turned down their recommendations to remove Sikhs from her personal guard detail. Two of them, men sworn to protect her with their lives turned their guns upon her instead…but her real fault lay in having created the problem in the first place and in letting it mount to the point where the destructive force of “Operation Bluestar” seemed the only solution,” writes Tharoor.
Operation Bluestar also ended up exacerbating the Punjab problem. As Singh points out “It soon became clear that the operation to save the Golden Temple had been a disaster. It was clear to the army, to journalists and to most political analysts….Far from ending the Punjab problem Operation Blue Star served served to dangerously exacerbate it and to deepen the divisions between Hindus and Sikhs.”
Like Bhindarwale in Punjab, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE) was also a monster helped to flourish by the Indian state. Guha deals with this in detail in India After Gandhi. “Of the several Tamil resistance organizations, the most influential and powerful were the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE). Led by a brutal fighter named Velupillai Prabhakaran, the LTTE had as its aim a separate nation, to be constituted from the north and east of the island, where the Tamils were in a majority…LTTE fighters had long used the Indian state of Tamil Nadu as a safe haven. Their activities were actively helped by the state government with New Delhi turning an indulgent eye.”
As we all know New Delhi was first run by Indira Gandhi and then her son Rajiv, grandmother and father of current vice president of the Congress party, Rahul Gandhi.
In 1987, Rajiv Gandhi made the disastrous decision of sending the Indian Peace Keeping Force to end the conflict in Sri Lanka. And this finally led to his assassination on May 21, 1991.
The point here is that the father and the grandmother of Rahul Gandhi were not martyrs, as he tried to project them as. They ended up paying for the huge mistakes that they made.
Rahul Gandhi also said in reference to the BJP “
ye rajneetik laabh ke liye chot pahunchate hain.(they hurt people for political gains.)” It is worth reminding Rahul about what his father Rajiv said in reference to the riots that happened after the assassination of Indira Gandhi. “When a big tree falls, the earth shakes.”
Trying to create fear and sympathy in the minds of people is a time tested political strategy, which politicians resort to, when they run out of ideas. Rahul Gandhi is just trying to do that.

The article originally appeared on on October 24, 2013
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He tweets @kaul_vivek) 

Why is DU in such a hurry to introduce a four-year degree?

Vivek Kaul 
Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winning psychologist (he won the Nobel Prize for economics) , in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, writes about a very interesting experience in designing a course he wanted introduce in high schools in Israel. Kahneman is currently the Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology Emeritus at the Princeton University in the United States. But he started his career in Israel.
As he writes “I convinced some officials at the Israeli Ministry of Education of the need for a curriculum to teach judgement and decision making in school. The team that I assembled to design the curriculum and write a textbook for it included several experienced teachers, some of my psychology students, and Seymour Fox, then dean of the Hebrew University’s School of Education, who was expert in curriculum development.”
The team used to meet every Friday afternoon. In a year’s time they managed to construct a detailed outline of the syllabus, write a few chapters and even run a few sample lessons in the classroom. At this point of time Kahneman thought of running a small exercise and asked the team he was working with, to write down the time they thought it would take to present a complete textbook to the Ministry of Education, which could then go ahead and introduce the course.
As a part of the exercise Kahneman asked Fox, who was an expert at curriculum development, what had his previous experience been like. How much time did the teams in previous cases take to complete, what they had set out to do, Kahneman specifically asked Fox. ““I cannot think of any group that finished in less than seven years…nor any that took more than ten,””replied Fox.
Now contrast this with what is happening at Delhi University, where Vice Chancellor Dinesh Singh, is trying to introduce a four year course to replace the current three year one. As things stand as of now, the four year course is expected to be introduced in a few months time, when the next academic session of the university starts.
The work towards introducing a four year course started only in September last year and in December a proposal to that effect was passed. As an article in the
 Outlook magazine points out “At a hastily called emergency academic council meeting, held on a restricted holiday (December 24), the proposal for the overhaul was passed. The agenda pap­ers of the meeting were made available to council members only two days bef­ore the meeting.”
The new academic session of the university starts in July, later this year. In six months time, between July and December, the Delhi University is trying to change the fundamental way it teaches, when it took at least seven years to introduce just a new course in the high schools of Israel.
Now that does not mean that India should also take seven to ten years to overhaul its education system, just because Israel used to do that. But the larger point is that changing the fundamental way of teaching in a central university cannot be done overnight, which is what Delhi University seems to be trying to do.
The first question that needs to be answered is that why is the change being made? Satish Despande, who teaches at the Delhi School of Economics told 
Outlook, “Not a single public document has been distributed for the rationale beh­ind introducing the four-year course. So, all we are saying is, tell us why.”
The purported reason that seems to be coming out is that it will help those students who want to go to the United States for further studies. As Swapan Dasgupta 
wrote in a column in The Times of India yesterday “Shashi Tharoor proclaimed his support for the four-year degree course Delhi University is set to introduce from July. Tharoor’s logic was simple: the American 12 + 4 pattern has become the norm. “Indian students with 10+2+3 were made to do an extra year in the US. It was frustrating for many.””
Tharoor passed out of St Stephens College in Delhi, and then went to do his PhD from the Tufts University in the United States. Given this, Tharoor’s concern for those students of Delhi university who go to the United States for further studies is understandable.
But what about the ‘lesser mortals’ who decide to stay back and carry on their education or work to make a living, in India? As Ramachandra Guha 
writes in a column in the Hindustan Times “The logic of converting an established three-year degree programme into one of four years has not been carefully examined. When all other public universities in India have a three-year programme, how can one university alone stand out? The argument that the change will help students get admission into American universities is extremely elitist, since that possibility is open to (at most) 1% of DU students.”
Even if one does not get into the specific reasons for this change, there are other practical issues that need to be addressed.
The new four year structure allows students to drop out at the end of two or three years. Where will these students stand? Will a student who completes three years at Delhi university be eligible for its Post Graduate courses?
As mentioned earlier, Delhi university is a central university, which attracts students from all across the Eastern and Northern India. So will students who complete three year courses from other universities all across India, be eligible for Post Graduate courses on offer at the Delhi university?
If yes, then shouldn’t that be the case with students who complete three years at Delhi university? And if that is the case then why have a four year course at all? These are practical questions which need to be answered for the benefit of students who plan to apply in the various colleges affiliated to Delhi university later this year.
Then there is the problem of how will others treat Delhi university students who drop out at the end of two or three years? Will these students be eligible for MBA/UPSC/PO/any other exam that requires a three year bachelors degree?
That’s the practical part of it. Now lets come to the learning part. A 
senior administrator of the Delhi university told The Telegraph “Students are not gaining adequate skills and fundamental knowledge on matters relevant to life. The four-year course aims to teach those subjects that are relevant for students for their career, personal conduct and good citizenry.” The question of course is why can’t that be done in three years instead of four? And if its not being done in three years time what is the guarantee that it will be done in four years time?
The way the university plans to go about doing is this is putting students through 11 basic courses in the first two years. 
As Jayati Ghosh writes in The Hindu “Regardless of their previous training or choice of subject, allstudents will be forced to take 11 foundation courses, which will occupy most of their time in the first two years. These include two courses on “Language, Literature and Creativity” (one in English and the other in Hindi or another Modern Indian Language), “Information Technology,” “Business, Entrepreneurship and Management,” “Governance and Citizenship,” “Psychology, Communication and Life Skills,” “Geographic and Socio-economic Diversity,” “Science and Life,” “History, Culture and Civilisation,” “Building Mathematical Ability” and “Environment and Public Health.”
While broadening the horizon of students is always a good idea, doing it in an unplanned way can have unpleasant consequences. There are multiple questions that crop up here. Who will teach these courses? Are the current lot of Delhi university equipped enough to teach these courses? The Delhi university currently has 4000 vacancies for teachers. So is it in a position to take on this extra burden? What about the text books for these courses?
Also what will be the level of these courses going to be? As Ghosh puts it “These courses will have to be pitched at a level that can be understood by anyone with a basic school qualification. So the course on, say, “Building Mathematical Ability,” must be comprehensible to a student who has not done Mathematics at the Plus Two level, which would make it too basic to retain the interest of students who have already done it in school.”
The multi-disciplinary course goes against the entire idea of the Indian education system where students are expected to pick up their broad specialisation at the 10+2 level.
There are too many questions which need to be answered before a four year course can be introduced. Introducing the course without answering these questions would amount to experimenting with lives of students. Something that should not be done.
Let me conclude this with a personal experience. My three year bachelors degree in mathematics from Ranchi University took me four years to complete. The university during those days was running a year late. Final year exams which should have happened in May-June 1998, finally happened in May-July 1999. In fact, we were told that we were lucky because in the late eighties and the early nineties it took even five and a half years to complete a three year bachelors degree from Ranchi University.
In the end it were students like me who lost precious time because the university system kept screwing up. If the Delhi university goes ahead with its four year programme in its current shape, it is the students who will have to pay for it.

PS: And who has come with the names for the new Delhi university degrees? The university will award an Associate Baccalaureate (after 2 years), a Baccalaureate (after 3 years), and a Baccalaureate with Honours (after 4 years). Can we at least have names for degrees which we can pronounce, the fascination of Delhi university and Dinesh Singh for French notwithstanding.
The article originally appeared on on May 6,2013
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He tweets @kaul_vivek)


Of 9% economic growth and Manmohan’s pipedreams

Vivek Kaul

Shashi Tharoor before he decided to become a politician was an excellent writer of fiction. It is rather sad that he hasn’t written any fiction since he became a politician. A few lines that he wrote in his book Riot: A Love Story I particularly like. “There is not a thing as the wrong place, or the wrong time. We are where we are at the only time we have. Perhaps it’s where we’re meant to be,” wrote Tharoor.
India’s slowing economic growth is a good case in point of Tharoor’s logic. It is where it is, despite what the politicians who run this country have to say, because that’s where it is meant to be.
The Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his independence-day speech laid the blame for the slowing economic growth in India on account of problems with the global economy as well as bad monsoons within the country. As he said “You are aware that these days the global economy is passing through a difficult phase. The pace of economic growth has come down in all countries of the world. Our country has also been affected by these adverse external conditions. Also, there have been domestic developments which are hindering our economic growth. Last year our GDP grew by 6.5 percent. This year we hope to do a little better…While doing this, we must also control inflation. This would pose some difficulty because of a bad monsoon this year.
So basically what Manmohan Singh was saying that I know the economic growth is slowing down, but don’t blame me or my government for it. Singh like most politicians when trying to explain their bad performance has resorted to what psychologists calls the fundamental attribution bias.
As Vivek Dehejia an economics professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, told me in a recent interview I did for the Daily News and Analysis (DNA) Fundamentally attribution bias says that we are more likely to attribute to the other person a subjective basis for their behaviour and tend to neglect the situational factors. Looking at our own actions we look more at the situational factors and less at the idiosyncratic individual subjective factors.”
In simple English what this means is that when we are analyzing the performance of others we tend to look at the mistakes that they made rather than the situational factors. On the flip side when we are trying to explain our bad performance we tend to blame the situational factors more than the mistakes that we might have made.
So in Singh’s case he has blamed the global economy and the deficient monsoon for the slowing economic growth. He also blamed his coalition partners. “As far as creating an environment within the country for rapid economic growth is concerned, I believe that we are not being able to achieve this because of a lack of political consensus on many issues,” Singh said.
Each of these reasons highlighted by Singh is a genuine reason but these are not the only reasons because of which economic growth of India is slowing down. A major reason for the slowing down of economic growth is the high interest rates and high inflation that prevails. With interest rates being high it doesn’t make sense for businesses to borrow and expand. It also doesn’t make sense for you and me to take loans and buy homes, cars, motorcycles and other consumer durables.
The question that arises here is that why are banks charging high interest rates on their loans? The primary reason is that they are paying high interest rate on their deposits.
And why are they paying a high interest rate on their deposits? The answer lies in the fact that banks have been giving out more loans than raising deposits. Between December 30, 2011 and July 27, 2012, a period of nearly seven months, banks have given loans worth Rs 4,16,050 crore. During the same period the banks were able to raise deposits worth Rs 3,24,080 crore. This means an incremental credit deposit ratio of a whopping 128.4% i.e. for every Rs 100 raised as deposits, the banks have given out loans of Rs 128.4.
Thus banks have not been able to raise as much deposits as they are giving out loans. The loans are thus being financed out of deposits raised in the past. What this also means is that there is a scarcity of money that can be raised as deposits and hence banks have had to offer higher interest rates than normal to raise this money.
So the question that crops up next is that why there is a scarcity of money that can be raised as deposits? This as I have said more than few times in the past is because the expenditure of the government is much more than its earnings.
The fiscal deficit of the government or the difference between what it earns and what it spends has been going up, over the last few years. For the financial year 2007-2008 the fiscal deficit stood at Rs 1,26,912 crore. It went up to Rs 5,21,980 crore for financial year 2011-2012. In a time frame of five years the fiscal deficit has shot up by nearly 312%. During the same period the income earned by the government has gone up by only 36% to Rs 7,96,740 crore.
This difference is made up for by borrowing. When the borrowing needs of the government go through the roof it obviously leaves very little on the table for the banks and other private institutions to borrow, which in turn means that they have to offer higher interest rates to raise deposits. Once they offer higher interest rates on deposits, they have to charge higher interest rate on loans.
A higher interest rate scenario slows down economic growth as companies borrow less to expand their businesses and individuals also cut down on their loan financed purchases. This impacts businesses and thus slows down economic growth.
The huge increase in fiscal deficit has primarily happened because of the subsidy on food, fertilizer and petroleum. One of the programmes that benefits from the government subsidy is Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). The scheme guarantees 100 days of work to adults in any rural household. While this is a great short term fix it really is not a long term solution. If creating economic growth was as simple as giving away money to people and asking them to dig holes, every country in the world would have practiced it by now.
As Raghuram Rajan, who is taking over as the next Chief Economic Advisor of the government of India, told me in an interview I did for DNA a couple of years back “The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS, another name for MGNREGA), if appropriately done it is a short term insurance fix and reduces some of the pressure on the system, which is not a bad thing. But if it comes in the way of the creation of long term capabilities, and if we think NREGS is the answer to the problem of rural stagnation, we have a problem. It’s a short term necessity in some areas. But the longer term fix has to be to open up the rural areas, connect them, education, capacity building, that is the key.
But the Manmohan Singh led United Progressive Alliance seems to be looking at the employment guarantee scheme as a long term solution rather than a short term fix. This has led to burgeoning wage inflation over the last few years in rural areas.
As Ruchir Sharma writes in Breakout Nations – In Pursuit of the Next Economic MiraclesThe wages guaranteed by MGNREGA pushed rural wage inflation up to 15 percent in 2011”.
Also as more money in the hands of rural India chases the same number of goods it has led to increased price inflation as well. Consumer price inflation currently remains over 10%. The most recent wholesale price index inflation number fell to 6.87% for the month of July 2012, from 7.25% in June. But this experts believe is a short term phenomenon and inflation is expected to go up again in the months to come.
As Ruchir Sharma wrote in a column that appeared yesterday in The Times of IndiaFor decades India’s place in the rankings of nations by inflation rates also held steady, somewhere between 78 and 98 out of 180. But over the past couple of years India’s inflation rate is so out of whack that its ranking has fallen to 151. No nation has ever managed to sustain rapid growth for several decades in the face of high inflation. It is no coincidence that India is increasingly an outlier on the fiscal front as well with the combined central and state government deficits now running four times higher than the emerging market average of 2%.” (You can read the complete column here).
So to get economic growth back on track India has to control inflation. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has been trying to control inflation by keeping the repo rate, or the rate at which it lends to banks, at a high level. One school of thought is that once the RBI starts cutting the repo rate, interest rates will fall and economic growth will bounce back.
That is specious argument at best. Interest rates are not high because RBI has been keeping the repo rate high. The repo rate at best acts as an indicator. Even if the RBI were to cut the repo rate the question is will it translate into interest rate on loans being cut by banks? I don’t see that happening unless the government clamps down on its borrowing. And that will only happen if it’s able to control the subsidies.
The fiscal deficit for the current financial year 2012-2013 has been estimated at Rs Rs Rs 5,13,590 crore. I wouldn’t be surprised if the number even touches Rs 600,000 crore. The oil subsidy for the year was set at Rs 43,580 crore. This has already been exhausted. Oil prices are on their way up and brent crude as I write this is around $115 per barrel. The government continues to force the oil marketing companies to sell diesel, LPG and kerosene at a loss. The diesel subsidy is likely to continue given that with the bad monsoon farmers are now likely to use diesel generators to pump water to irrigate their fields. With food inflation remaining high the food subsidy is also likely to go up.
The heart of India’s problem is the huge fiscal deficit of the government and its inability to control it. As Sharma points out in Breakout NationsIt 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…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.”
These details Manmohan Singh couldn’t have mentioned in his speech. But he tried to project a positive picture by talking about the planning commission laying down measures to ensure a 9% rate of growth. The one measure that the government needs to start with is to cut down the fiscal deficit. And the probability of that happening is as much as my writing having more readers than that of Chetan Bhagat. Hence India’s economic growth is at a level where it is meant to be irrespective for all the explanations that Manmohan Singh gave us and the hope he tried to project in his independence-day speech.
But then you can’t stop people from dreaming in broad daylight. Even Manmohan Singh! As the great Mirza Ghalib who had a couplet for almost every situation in life once said “hui muddat ke ghalib mar gaya par yaad aata hai wo har ek baat par kehna ke yun hota to kya hota?
(The article originally appeared on on August 16,2012.
Vivek Kaul is a writer and can be reached at [email protected]