Sone ki Lanka

In ancient times, Ravana was a demonic person, and felt precisely as such persons feel: “I am God myself. I am perfect and the mightiest. Every object exists only for my pleasure”[The Bhagavad-Gita  ( XVI. 14)]. He ruled the mighty imperium of Lanka where he had amassed wealth that  he had looted from all the worlds. His capital was made of gold beautified by pearls and diamonds. Everything that could beautify it was there in plenty making it of delight every moment it is seen. Its security was of the highest order conceivable through devices rendering the king wholly invincible.

Tulsidas tells us in the Ramcharitmanasa that during His sojourn in the forest, Rama saw the heaps of bones of the sages and saints in the forest. His kindness welled up, and he asked people around what had wrought their plight that way. He got a reply: “The demonic persons had eaten up the good residents of the forest (“अस्थि समूह देखि रघुराया, पूछी मुनिन्ह लागि अति दया”). Ravana had got Lanka made by the divine architect Vishwakarma. Hanumanji, contemplating to enter Laka in search of Sita, felt that Ravana’s  capital floated on the clouds. Ravana’s aircraft had on it white mansions, water tanks with lotuses in plenty. It was called the Puspakvimana.

But Ravana’s extractive imperialism did not last long. His city, with all its might and affluence, was destroyed by of Hanuman, a monkey who was working for Rama. Even the invincible Ravana was killed by Rama. None survived even to shed tears for the mighty demon.

David Korten, in his Where Corporations Rule the World tells us about a very suggestive episode: about the Cloud Minders in The Star Trek: The Original Series. It is an allegory with deep import.

“The Cloud Minders, episode 74 of the popular science fiction television series Star Trek, took place on the planet Ardan. First aired on Feb. 28, 1969, it depicted a planet whose rulers devoted their lives to the arts in a beautiful and peaceful city, Stratos, suspended high above the planet’s desolate surface. Down below, the inhabitants of the planet’s surface, the Troglytes, worked in misery and violence in the planet’s mines to earn the interplanetary exchange credits used to import from other planets the luxuries the rulers enjoyed on Stratos.”

The Troglytes, the suffering beasts of burden, worked extracting zenite. This mineral was valuable for the cloud minders for augmentation of wealth, though the unprocessed zenite emitted gas which made the beasts of burden lose their mental capacity. For their retardation and incapacities they were exposed to the hazardous and degrading pursuits whereas their capitalist exploiters had the best time in the world built in the sky. It was criminal to generate inequities and inequalities to make the toilers low and deficient in worth; but it was worse still to make them suffer for no fault of theirs. How unfair it is to deprive the poor of essential entitlements, and then cast them in the ashcan because they are deficient!

To suffer unjust sufferings, tongue tied, is itself the worst of all sins.

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Understanding fraud at work: Role-model for economic fraudsters

AN overview of the history from the 16th century to date shows that the art and craft of fraud are deficient in inventiveness: they repeat the same script of their craft time and again, of course, with seemingly new trappings. Its plagiaristic repetitiveness goes most often unnoticed because human memory is proverbially short. This point was forcefully driven home to us by John Kenneth Galbraith in The Age of Uncertainty (1977) where he said:

“The man who is admired for the ingenuity of his larceny is almost always rediscovering some earlier form of fraud. The basic forms are all known, have all been practiced. The manners of capitalism improve. The morals may not.”

It is well said. Shakespeare borrowed all his plots in his plays, but he turned them into things of beauty ever new, hence never stale. In this leaf I intend to tell you something about the structure and strategy of fraud as explored and portrayed by Charles Mackay in his Extraordinary Popular Delusions and Madness (1841). Never is a name more connotative and suggestive than this book’s. This book, especially its first three chapters [‘Money Mania.—The Mississippi Scheme’; ‘The South-Sea Bubble’; and ‘The Tulip mania’] deserve to be read by all who want to understand the technique of mega frauds illustrated in certain financial/money manias, now brought to perfection under the Pax Mercatus (the rule of market) established under the architecture of the present-day Economic Globalization. Michael Lewis considered Mackay an economist as high in stature as Adam Smith, Ricardo, and Keynes. The bubbles evidencing greedy financial manias pertain to the South Sea Company bubble of 1711–1720, the Mississippi Company bubble of 1719–1720, and the Dutch tulip mania of the seventeenth century. These show how the murk of greed helped produce a breed of financial fraudsters who succeeded in ingratiating the power-wielders and suborning even the watchers of public interest to turn them into a band of suppliant helpers and cheer-leaders of the greedy maniacs.

In this leaf it is not possible to provide even a synoptic view of the aforementioned three chapters. What I would attempt is a short summary of the common features only those points which must not go unnoticed by us if we really believe in the often repeated idea, as Edmund Burke put it, ‘ Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty’. But before I set out to draw such features I would quote Defoe who described the craft of greed with an amazing succinctness:

Some in clandestine companies combine;
Erect new stocks to trade beyond the line;
With air and empty names beguile the town,
And raise new credits first, then cry ’em down;
Divide the empty nothing into shares,
And set the crowd together by the ears

How graphic are the words in the concluding two lines in the context of the computer generated money under the present-day rogue financial system. How accurate is the portrait of the creatures pullulating on the stock markets gathering roses which do not exist, and harvesting money no more than evanescent digital flickers through figures which yield unjust enrichment to some, befool many entrapped in the quest of a rainbow, and leave the society by and large morally depraved to suffer inequity and injustice.

On this short leaf I cannot even provide you a synopsis comprehensive enough motivate you to go through Mackay’s book for light and delight. Here I would provide you some foretaste of what is the best in Mackay’s.

In the ‘Mississippi Scheme’, Charles Mackay draws an account of a powerful financial bubble which emerged from the collective pursuits of the bankers, speculators, economic adventurers and crooks. The artificial creation of credit, and the fecundity in the proliferation in paper currency, and a systematic maneuverings through monetary policy worked hand and glove with the wielders of political power in the degenerate ancient regime in France marching headlong to the Revolution (1789). The circulation of more money and the emergence of the extractive and exploitative gladiators created certain oasis of wealth in the aggrieved French society fostered the flame till the ancient regime turned into ashes. Consider the following brief extracts from Mackay’s book which, it is hoped, would provide us a good perspective to understand the goings-on of our days:

(a) The French society had become philistine, corrupt, and callous to common people. It was a society where some were born to great delight whilst all others were born to gruesome night.

“The looms of the country worked with unusual activity, to supply rich laces, silks, broad-cloth, and velvets, which being paid for in abundant paper, increased in price four-fold. Provisions shared the general advance. Bread, meat, and vegetables were sold at prices greater than had ever before been known; while the wages of labour rose in exactly the same proportion. The artisan who formerly gained fifteen sous per diem now gained sixty. New houses were built in every direction; an illusory prosperity shone over the land, and so dazzled the eyes of the whole nation that none could see the dark cloud on the horizon announcing the storm that was too rapidly approaching….. It was remarked at this time that Paris had never before been so full of objects of elegance and luxury. Statues, pictures, and tapestries were imported in great quantities from foreign countries, and found a ready market. All those pretty trifles in the way of furniture and ornament which the French excel in manufacturing were no longer the exclusive play-things of the aristocracy, but were to be found in abundance in the houses of traders and the middle classes in general. Jewellery of the most costly description.”

(b) The stock-market induced madness.

“The story goes that a hunchbacked man who stood in the street gained considerable sums by lending his hump as a writing-desk to the eager speculators! The great concourse of persons who assembled to do business brought a still greater concourse of spectators. These again drew all the thieves and immoral characters of Paris to the spot, and constant riots and disturbances took place.”

(c) Emergence of paper money: the hiatus inter se appearance and reality.

“The warnings of the parliament, that too great a creation of paper money would, sooner or later, bring the country to bankruptcy, were disregarded. The regent, who knew nothing whatever of the philosophy of finance, thought that a system which had produced such good effects could never be carried to excess.”

(d) Autocratic monarchy of the ancient regime worked as participis criminis in contradiction to constitutional monarchy of England where public outcry and vigilance led the government to forge effective steps against the swindlers whether they were in the government of the day or outside.

“In a constitutional monarchy some surer means would have been found for the restoration of public credit. In England, at a subsequent period, when a similar delusion had brought on similar distress, how different were the measures taken to repair the evil; but in France, unfortunately, the remedy was left to the authors of the mischief.”

The South-Sea Company was incorporated under the Act of the British Parliament with a view to restoring public credit, which was in a bad plight. Reports and rumours were assiduously manufactured so that the masses could be turned into herds to be easily driven to the traps so dexterously made with an active assistance of many ministers, members of Parliament, high dignitaries and many others shaping public policies including the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The king’s worry, expressed at the opening of the session of 1717, at the state of public credit was sought to be dealt with by setting up two great monetary corporations, the South-Sea Company and the Bank of England. The French bubble was treated as a model, but ‘wise in their own conceit’ some modifications were effected to escape the follies which pricked them flat. But the prime mover was the same in both the countries. Mackay puts it thus: “Visions of boundless wealth floated before the fascinated eyes of the people in the two most celebrated countries of Europe.” Some of the gnawing features were thus captured by Mackay:

“Walpole warned against “the dangerous practice of stock-jobbing, and would divert the genius of the nation from trade and industry. It would hold out a dangerous lure to decoy the unwary to their ruin, by making them part with the earnings of their labour for a prospect of imaginary wealth.” “It seemed at that time as if the whole nation had turned stock-jobbers.” “Every fool aspired to be a knave.”

“The great principle of the project was an evil of first-rate magnitude; it was to raise artificially the value of the stock, by exciting and keeping up a general infatuation, and by promising dividends out of funds which could never be adequate to the purpose.” In a prophetic spirit he added, that if the plan succeeded, the directors would become masters of the government, form a new and absolute aristocracy in the kingdom, and control the resolutions of the legislature. If it failed, which he was convinced it would, the result would bring general discontent and ruin upon the country.”

(iii) Some of these schemes were plausible enough, and, had they been undertaken at a time when the public mind was unexcited, might have been pursued with advantage to all concerned. But they were established merely with the view of raising the shares in the market. The projectors took the first opportunity of a rise to sell out, and next morning the scheme was at an end. The shares of this company were rapidly subscribed for. But the most absurd and preposterous of all, and which showed, more completely than any other, the utter madness of the people, was one started by an unknown adventurer, entitled “A company for carrying on an undertaking of great advantage, but nobody to know what it is.”

(iv) “But it did not follow that all these people believed in the feasibility of the schemes to which they subscribed; it was enough for their purpose that their shares would, by stock-jobbing arts, be soon raised to a premium, when they got rid of them with all expedition to the really credulous.” “It would be needless and uninteresting to detail the various arts employed by the directors to keep up the price of stock. It will be sufficient to state that it finally rose to one thousand per cent. It was quoted at this price in the commencement of August. The bubble was then full-blown, and began to quiver and shake, preparatory to its bursting.”

(v) “Is there no warmth in the despair of a plundered people?—no life and animation in the picture which might be drawn of the woes of hundreds of impoverished and ruined families? of the wealthy of yesterday become the beggars of to-day? of the powerful and influential changed into exiles and outcasts, and the voice of self-reproach and imprecation resounding from every corner of the land? Is it a dull or uninstructive picture to see a whole people shaking suddenly off the trammels of reason, and running wild after a golden vision, refusing obstinately to believe that it is not real, till, like a deluded hind running after an ignis fatuus, they are plunged into a quagmire?”

In the ‘Tulipomania’ Desire for tulips were created and made wide spread by adopting a strategy analogous to the strategy of the present-day commercial world bent to beget consumerism by creating and manipulating demands and desires. They procured intellectual hirelings to prove their points and to sell their wares. This mania overtook Western Europe in no time ‘Unmerited encomia lavished upon these fragile blossoms.’ ‘In 1634, the rage among the Dutch to possess them was so great that the ordinary industry of the country was neglected, and the population, even to its lowest dregs, embarked in the tulip trade.’ Prices went up and down, and the speculative profits were reaped. The ‘tulipomania’ got transmuted through some magic wand into ‘finmania’ (financial mania)! Falsehood and propaganda grew in crescendo, and public vigilance faded out. ‘The tulip-jobbers speculated in the rise and fall of the tulip stocks, and made large profits by buying when prices fell, and selling out when they rose.’ And all this led to:

“The prices of the necessaries of life rose again by degrees: houses and lands, horses and carriages, and luxuries of every sort, rose in value with them, and for some months Holland seemed the very antechamber of Plutus.”

All this not only swindled common people, it ruined even the crème de la crème who dug their grave to sleep insouciance. Mackay describes their plight thus: ‘Substantial merchants were reduced almost to beggary, and many a representative of a noble line saw the fortunes of his house ruined beyond redemption.” The story of greed ended as it always ends: in disaster. Even the government of the day found itself helpless.

Eternal vigilance is the price of Democracy

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” — Edmund Burke

Several times, in my later years, whenever I have reflected on the conditions of our Republic, some strange ideas have got yoked together in my mind. In some context, one of my teachers of Political Science had told us: “If you cannot learn from the lives of the good and the great, learn lessons from the lives of the courtesans and whores; if saints can teach, sinners too can do that. Their stories are heuristic, but what you draw from them depends on your wisdom in reading the text of their deeds.” And then he summarized the story of Women beware of Women, a tragic play written by one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries, Thomas Middleton. I hold him in great esteem for so skillfully jerking us up with his uncanny insight and perspicacity. We have known about Ambapali, the courtesan of the Republic of Vaishali, whose sense of values even the Buddha appreciated; about Bindumati, a whore at Pataliputra, whose fidelity to her duty had enabled her to appease the wrath of the Ganges out to inundate the city; about the Vaishya who made even Vivekananda realize his mistake. But here, when I am reflecting on the affairs of our Republic, I must tell you the story of Middleton’s tragic play as it can help us to evaluate what we see all around us, to draw lessons to tread ahead with wisdom.

Women beware of Women tells us about Binaca Capello, an Italian beauty, who was ravished in the background of her husband’s house, whilst in the foreground her protector was engrossed playing chess wholly unmindful to what was happening inside. This crime of ravishment was facilitated by Livia, professionally a procuress and corruptor, who had become a partner in the game of chess. When the sentinel on the qui vive, abandons trust, roguery takes a toll. Middleton came again to the game of chess in his Game at Chess in which the characters are chessmen, the white ones being the English (the White King was King James of England, and the White Knight was Prince Charles) and the black ones the Spaniards: It turned out a political allegory portraying how they played a sort of a geopolitical game of chess totally unmindful of the things getting worse and worse for them in their countries. Their cumulative sins visited King Charles, who had not only received a short shrift from Parliament, but even had his head cut off in 1649. The Business lobby, the remote predecessor of the present-day corporate lobby, could not help them to save their souls. Even the dexterous Lionel Cranfield, a business tycoon working for the king with no holds barred, failed to help them out. And they kissed their doom providing lessons for all of us. This is how the world goes: But playing the game of chess can be disastrous. T.S. Eliot, in his The Waste Land, composed a section on ‘A Game of Chess’ where the players come to say:

And we shall play a game of chess,
Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door.

And this knocking drags into our mind Act 2 of Shakespeare’s Macbeth where the Nemesis is advancing fast to overtake Macbeth whose hands were drenched with the honest King’s blood! When public affairs become a game of chess, some knocking at the door is always the operation of divine justice: it comes to-day or to-morrow: but it surely comes.

The story, when reflected in the light of things happening in our great country, brings to mind Winston Churchill’s powerful peroration in the House of Commons on 18th June 1940. During the World War II, moments came when the very existence of England was at peril. Lord Denning considered this “one of the most effective pieces of prose in our language.” Churchill said with his usual felicity and characteristic passion:

 “Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him all Europe may be free, and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands, but if we fail then the whole world, including the United States, and all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more prolonged, by the lights of a perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duty and so bear ourselves that if the British Commonwealth and Empire lasts for a thousand years men will say: ‘This was their finest hour.” (Denning’s Leaves from my Library p. 9)

We too are passing through difficult times. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duty as perceived by our viveka (wisdom). I recall how I concluded my argument before the Delhi High Court in the absue of the Indo-Mauritius tax treaty case [ now reported as Shiva Kant Jha & Anr v. Union of India (2002) 256 ITR 563 (Del.)] . I argued before the Court (Chief Justice S.B. Sinha, and Justice A.K. Sikri, as their Lordships were then) for a week,: and ended that with my peroration quoting Lord Nelson’s words, expressed through light signal to his forces in the Battle of Trafalgar: “England expects every one to do his duty” suggesting through an apt variation: “India expects every one to do his duty”

My first visit to Gandhiji’s Sevagram Aashram near Wardha

(i)

I visited Gandhi’s Sevagram Aashram 1986, soon after I joined at Nagpur my post as the Commissioner of Income-tax at Nagpur. My wife found a lot of interest in many things we saw at the Aashram. But what moved us most were the Gandhi’s edicts we read on certain boards put up in different parts of the Aashram. We were greatly influenced by some of the ideas written on them. After taking rounds in the Aashram, we sat on the veranda of one of the cottages in the sprawling campuses of the illustrious Aashram.

We contemplated on the Gandhian edicts sitting at the edge of one of the cottages of the Aashram.

(ii)
Seven Sins

The board at the Wardha Ashram, Wardha

Politics without principles
Wealth without work
Commerce without morality
Education without character
Pleasure without conscience
Science without humanity
Worship without sacrifice. 

Gandhi wished that in free India the above mentioned seven sins would not survive to distort and taint the country’s governance and socio-economic management. But we have betrayed that trust. We see around us how the seven sins are ruling everywhere.

We see around us how in the political management of our country, expediency dominates, and narrow interests act as the most potent driving force. No moral principle is seen steadfastly operative. Wealth has become extractive, and inequalities and inequities are growing apace all around. This is natural in the present-day economic system that I have called the ‘Taj Mahal Economy’. I have written about this in my post on my blog loaded on June 2011. The third sin is being committed without slightest sense of shame in this phase of Economic Globalisation. Education does not help the growth of moral values; it just produces instruments to run an exploitative economic system. Pleasure without conscience has led to the consumerist culture which is driven by hedonist impulses. Science is useful but the purpose all its efforts is to create conditions for  the weal of humanity. What makes us most worried is the ‘moral deficit’ in the ways we manage our affairs.  The industrial achievements and technological wonders cannot mask the rot, and hide what may become the founts for impending disasters. It is unwise for us to live in the romantic delirium of scientific achievements alone.  The 19th century was greatly remarkable for industrial, imperial and technological changes, yet whilst assessing the worth of human achievements over that century one of its ablest scientific minds, Alfred Russel Wallace, expressed in his The Wonderful Century: Its Successes and Failures his deep concern at the “exponential growth of technology matched by the stagnant morality” which implied “only more potential for instability and less capacity for reasonable prognostication.” This is the well-known   ‘Wallace Paradox’, and comes to mind when we appraise what is happening all around.

All the seven sins, to which Gandhi has referred, have grown most prolifically in these years which have seen how the economic realm has subjugated the political realm. Democracy survives only with its formal structure. Opaque systems has grown for the benefits of the MNCs, and the High Net Worth Individuals. Democracy stands subjugated to corporatocracy.   Corruption becomes the strategy of the global corporations and their lobbyists. They have succeeded even making our state their  “sponsored state”. It is on account of this that our politics have become monochromatic. The seven sins have taken a toll on our democracy. Their words are mere words!

(iii)
Gandhian talisman

We read somewhere in the Aashram what is generally called the talisman that Gandhi had given to the decision-makers of the independent India. He said:

“I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test:

Recall the face of the poorest and weakest man whom you have seen and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to Swaraj for the hungry and spiritually starving millions?

Then you will find your doubts and yourself melting away.”

When Glanville Austen read these lines on a board displayed at the Gandhi Smriti, Birla House, New Delhi, he was so much moved by the wisdom and felicity of Gandhiji that he quoted these lines in the beginning of his famous book Indian Constitution at Work. But it is saddening to say that we have ignored this talisman. It seems in our high GDP-driven economy the talisman has been trashed, and: the Stock-Market has found the talisman of no worth. Words of G.K. Chesterton come to mind:

“These are peoples that have lost the power of astonishment at their own actions…. they do not start or stare at the monster they have brought forth. They have grown used to their own unreason; chaos is their cosmos; and the whirlwind is the breath of their nostrils. These nations are really in danger of going off their heads en masse; of becoming one vast vision of imbecility.”

(iv)
The norms in the matter of taking meals

My wife was most impressed by Gandhi’s edict on the wall of a cottage. It contained instructions how food should be taken. In deference to her interest I copied the whole text in my diary. As Gandhi’s instructions are for our common benefit, I render this edict thus:

“Every one must follow certain norms in the matter of taking meals. There should be in one’s food a proper proportion of gur, ghee, and vegetables. For one meal it is enough to have eight ounces of vegetables. If anything is not good, it is lack of culture to make grumbling comments while eating. This sort of act is himsa. One should inform the manager about the deficiency. If something is raw, that should be left out. If desire for something more still remains, it is good. But one must not be angry. Every work should be done carefully. We belong to the same family; We must work with this sort of feeling. Even salt be taken only as much as is needed.  One must not waste even water. I hope that everyone in the Ashrama would treat the things of the Ashrama as his, and also as the things held in trust for the poor. One should eat food viewing that to possessed medicinal value. One should eat for health; and health is needed for rendering service to others. One should eat less and with moderation. One should not create sound while eating. One should eat slowly and cleanly, considering food as God’s gift.  Everyone should wash his utensils after taking meals; and should keep them properly.”

Dear friends, think about the food habits of our young people shaped by the consumerist culture of neoliberal economy. How inane and trivial Gandhian ideas would sound to them! Their state of mind is no different from that which had made Swami Vivekananda worried about  the generations  brainwashed under the culture of British colonialism. Dr. Ramdhari Singh ‘Dinkar’ has drawn a graphic account of the degradation that had been brought about in our country:

“The young people, with verve, took to alcoholic liquors; and thus tried showing to their fathers, uncles, and brothers that they were radically different from such relations. Those, who were even more intoxicated with that impact, started teasing and befooling their fathers and grandfathers; even went to the extent to throw beef morsel, and cow’s bones into the temples. Bewailing at this condition, Vivekananda said that the first lesson that children learn is that their fathers are fools; the second that their grand-fathers are mad; the third that their teachers are hypocrites; and then that their entire scriptures are useless.” (my translation from  Dinkar’s  Sanskriti ke Chaar Adhyaya)

The three Indias: our experts deliberated at a ‘swimming city’

Three persons met in a conclave at the ‘swimming city’ in the Pacific to deliberate on the affairs of our world. They assembled in this ship.  They were advertised in the media as the three flowers out to herald a new spring all around. One was with the highest Business Management doctorate from the world’s most prestigious university;   the second was an economist flaunting gaudy academic distinctions; and the third had a distinguished career  as a financier reigning with his  wizardry  the world of finance. Each claimed to be  in hand and glove with the government which pretended in the public domain to work as  the  parens patriae for the ordinary mortals. People  somehow  believed that their  government was an institution, set up through elections,  and was, therefore, surely faithful to people as was  Penelope to her husband! So  the modern versions of Medicis and Sir Basil Zaharoffs  were there on that  swimming ship assembled  to forge how best to exploit the ‘great beast’, as common ‘people’ had appeared to Alexander Hamilton  then, and as  they  appear to the leaders of the present-day of the Economic Globalization.

They thought of  three Indias. One India, called  ‘India Incorporated’,    of the nouveau  riche, the high net worth individuals, the most successful looters, the most successful crooks, the MNCs and creatures of the similar stuff. Mammon is  their guide and Lucre is  their love. They need a country on this planet  because some stellar world is  still to be discovered or explored. They feel  that all others beyond their circle are mere  commodities to be turned  into the grist of the mill of their greed. They feel  the world exists  for them. Not  to say of a government, even God exists  to promote their welfare. The Second and the third Indias exist in the spheres away from the first, separated by the thickest smog ever seen. These two constitute Bharat, itself vivisected into two realms, one working for the first India as their workers, lobbyists, advertisers and cheerleaders. Some of these have  before them inviting carrots for which any donkey is accustomed to bray,  and move towards. The Third India is the Bharat of ordinary mortals whose destiny makes them either to become  the instruments  to run the  market,  or to become raw materials for creation of new products, or to become what the lawyers say res commercium. Most of them, about 80% of the  90% of Bharat can be just dispensed with by devising protocols to turn them to  profits, which is  the sovereign goal of the majestic Market. The conclave on the swimming ship unanimously decided that the best solution was to turn them into the ‘beast of burden’, or better still, into an animal farm  for harvesting human organs etc.  so long such resources could last.  They has refused to learn the wisdom which the poet  ‘Dinkar’ so felicitously express in his  epic  Kurukshetra

जो कुछ न्यस्त प्रकृति में है
वह मनुज मात्र का धन है,
धर्मराज, उसके कण कण का
अधिकारी जन जन है.

[Whatever is the endowment of  nature is the property of all. O Dharmaraj, every being is entitled to all the resources in nature.]

Justifying their ideas they drew on the wisdom of J.B. Priestley who discovered three Englands in his English Journey (1934). He discovered three Englands (A.J.P.Taylor, English History 1914-1945  p. 301): (i) the traditional England rich with wealth; (ii) the “bleak England of harsh industrial towns,” and   (iii) the “England of dole”, a subdivision of England No. 2.” But the  delight of the experts in the conclave found no bounds, when a professor from a prestigious Business School getting salary in lakhs and lakhs  pointed out that  there existed  precedents even in ‘the best of all times’. Even  Benjamin Disraeli, who worked to make Victoria the Empress of India in the 19th century, had witnessed two Englands:

“Two nations; between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by a different breeding, are fed by a different food, are ordered by different   manners, are not governed by the same laws…the Rich and the Poor.” ( Nehru, Glimpses of World History 403)

The concepts of ‘Satyagraha’ and ‘fast’ deserve some reflections in the context of our times

The 34-year-old Swami Nigamanand died at Dehradun on June 14, 2011 after being on a fast from Feb.19 this year. He fasted expressing his protest against the illegal mining and stone crushing along the Ganga near Haridwar. He suffered, and died, for a public cause almost unnoticed by the media and the politicians.  It brought to my mind the story of Shatranj Ke Khiladi by Munshi Premchand. I would render into English one paragraph from his Hindi story:

Nawab Wazid Ali Shah was arrested, and the army was taking him to an unknown destination. There was not even a murmur in the town, no question of resorting to force (to save him). Not even a drop of blood had been shed. Oudh  was annexed to the East India Company Bahadur. Till this date no independent country is known to have embraced servitude so calmly. Not a drop of blood was shed to drench soil to protect the country’s independence. In such situations, how could servitude be avoided. The only thing that could be said about the Independence of such a country: “It is a wonder that it is free; no wonder if it loses it.”

I have written in bold what is relevant in the context of Nigmanad’s death. He passed away, almost unwept and unsung though he made a sacrifice for a great cause; and he would remain alive in our memory. No great society would allow its citizen to die fasting when he was doing so to promote our common cause. This can happen only when our system of governance suffers from gross ‘moral deficit’ and ‘democratic deficit’.

His death this way has made me reflect on the very concepts of ‘Satyagraha’ and ‘fast’ often being undertaken with the noblest motives.  I pray to every one who intends to go on a ‘satyagraha’ and a ‘fast’ to consider my ideas set forth in paragraphs hereinafter.

(a) Satygraha

Conceptually ‘satygraha’ does not require fasting, whether for some days or till l death. ‘Satya’ means fidelity to facts, and it also means, as Aapte’s Sanskrit Hindi Kosh says, ‘straight’ and ‘true’. Besides, it works for the welfare (kalyan) of all. The perception that leads people dedicating themselves to public cause is not controlled or distorted by self-interest, greed, lust, pre-conceived notions and stock-responses. The great Hindi Poet ‘Dinkar’ makes Bhishma tell the remorseful Yudhisthira, when the latter called on him in the battle-field of Kurukshetra, what the Lord Krishna had said in the Bhagavad-Gita:

सत्य ही भगवान ने उस दिन कहा.’मुख्य है कर्ता-हृदय की भावना
मुख्य है वह भाव , जीवन- युद्ध में भिन्न हम कितना रहे निज कर्म से

 (God Himself said this: what matters most is one’s attitudes to what one does. The most important point is how much detached one is from what one is doing.)

‘Aagraha’ in Sanskrit means ‘ persuasion made on firm conviction’. . The nature of ‘aagraha’ depends on the nature of ‘cause’ that is promoted. It can span from friendly persusion to a kranti. The great Bhishma of the Mahabharata had agonising moments, even whilst on his death-bed in the battlefield of Kurukshetra, that he did not muster courge to do what was right for him to do to prevent the War. His agony has been thus expressed by the poet ‘Dinkar’ in his epic ‘Kurukshetra’:

राज-द्रोह की ध्वजा उठाकर कहीं प्रचारा होता
न्याय-पक्ष लेकर दुर्योधना को ललकारा होता…….
भारत भूमि पड़ती न स्यात, संगर में आगे चल के

Besides, Satygraha can differ (a) when it is directed against one’s own fellow citizens; (b) when it is directed against a tyrant or an imperialist; and (c) when it is performed in a democratic society. In the case at (a) moral persuasion and wide inter-actions are needed so that others realize what is good for them, for their progeny, or for the whole eco-system ( we can call it ‘collective realization of everyone’s weal’: sakalkalyan): in the case (b) it is prudent to be strategic and prudent in deciding the appropriateness of the protocol of resistance, the spectrum of which might spread from strategic ‘lying low’ or a civil resistance turning into a civil disobedience, to an open resistance. When these methods are adopted to promote a public cause in a democratic society, appeals are: made simultaneously (i) to those who run the government to do its duty suggesting in no uncertain terms that if it fails, it would forfeit its moral, even legal, claims to seek people’s obedience, and (ii) to the people, who grant the government of the moment authority to wield public power, to exercise pressure on the government as permissible under the law, but if that fails then, of course in rarest of rare moments, the people can draw on their ultimate power as the political sovereign in a political society.

Vrata (fast)

 ‘Fast’ means the act of abstaining from, or eating very little, food, it also means ‘a period of such abstention or self-denial’. We can understand what ‘fast’ means in our Indian society better if we consider what ‘Upavaash’ means in Sanskrit. We Indians derive its meaning treating it an integral part of ‘vrata’ for self-purification, and for spiritual elevation. Upavaash has been explained most comprehensively in masterly terms in this fragment of Sanskrit verse:

उपावृतस्य पापेभ्यो वस्तु वासो गुणे सह
उपवासः स विज्ञेयः सर्वभोगविवर्जितः

[Upavaash is the way to live with good (virtue or ideals) getting rid of the sinful (wrongful) traits. In the process one should abstain from pleasures of senses (visaya).]

Its etymological meaning is : ‘to be with what is considered good’ (‘upa’ means ‘near’; and ‘vaash’ mean to ‘reside’. It suggests a constant pursuit for a noble cause for the weal of all. We know that this commitment for a common cause for general welfare is a ‘human-specific trait’. We know that ‘vrata’ does not mean one’s abstinence from food if that can jeopardize one’s health.

It is a distortion and ignorance to think that ‘fast unto death’ is sanctioned in our culture. . Drawing on the core ideas of the Bhagavad-Gita, Swami Ramsukhdas says in his Geeta-Prabodhni, that देखनेमें वस्तु मुख्य दिखती है. क्रिया गौण हे. पर वास्तवमें क्रिया-ही-क्रिया है, वस्तु है ही नहीं. सरीर तो केबल कर्म सामिग्री है.” (On observation, ‘matter’ appears of prime importance, and  action not that important. But Cosmos is nothing but ‘action’. Human body is just an instrument of action). None should lead one’s body to its death or destruction, as it is only an instrument for action (karma) in the cosmic kriya from the ambit of which no socio-cultural, or politico-economic things can ever go beyond.

Mahatma Gandhi as the role model examined

We have grown accustomed to think of ‘satyagraha’ and ‘fasting’ in the light of what Mahatma Gandhi did in course of our struggle for freedom. Gandhi has become a role-model for revolutionary action. But we should consider the contexts and time when he used these methods. . Besides, Gandhi had displayed great practical prudence; it may even be possible to say that he used his ‘satygraha’ and ‘fast’ as part of his political strategy. H.M. Seervai, in his Constitutionl Law (4th ed. Pp . 111-112) has a point when he says that “there is little doubt that Gandhi used non-violence as a political weapon…”.Gandhi fasted against ‘Communal Award’, to quote H.M. Seervai, “ that provided separate electorates and reservation of seats for minorities of which the Muslims and the Depressed Classes were the largest. Gandhi announced that if the Award was not changed as to the Depressed Classes (who were Hindus), he would fast unto death. Faced with this threat, several Hindu leaders started negotiations with Dr. Ambedkar, the leader of the Depressed Classes, which resulted in the “Poona Pact” which was accepted by the British Government. Under it, there was reservation of seats for the Depressed Classes, but with joint electorates. “. Gandhi’s fast succeeded because its effect was felt by our fellow countrymen which led the British Government to believe that their strategies to divide the Hindus could not work. But contrast this with happened after the ‘Quit India Movement’ that began in 1942. Mahatma Gandhi undertook a fast to mobilize public opinion and to put pressure on the British Government. . To say in the words of Seervai:

‘In February 1943, Gandhi informed the Viceroy that he would undertake a fast of three weeks for “self purification”. Government’s offer to release him during the fast was rejected by Gandhi, who said that in that event there would be no fast, and the Government of India refused to release him.’

That was the period when Sir Winston Churchill was the Prime Minister of England ( 1940-1945 ). He was a rabid imperialist hating India’s Freedom Movement, and had harboured spite for Gandhi and the Gandhian ways. The British Government had become extremely obdurate; perhaps wishing Gandhi’s suicide as that would have helped the British Government to hold on its imperial power on India. . Gandhi saw through the game, and decided to end his fast to live in order to fight for the cause of our nation. . He did not oblige the Government by acting the way Swami Nigamanand has done. When Gandhi exercised the technique of ‘satygraha’ and ‘fast’ to persuade his fellow Indians, he succeeded; but when he tried to use them against the brute imperialist Britain, he failed, and had to break his ‘fast’. Besides, it cannot be ruled out that Gandhi’s ultimate success was facilitated by the noxious and paralyzing embroilment of the United Kingdom in geopolitics and realpolitik of that time that had led to the World War II, and its pyrrhic victory, and the emergence of the United States. Besides, there is some point in what  Bertrand Russell said in his Autobiography:

“Certainly it has an important sphere; as against the British in India, Gandhi led to triumph. But it depends upon the existence of certain virtues in those against whom it is employed. …But the Nazis had no scruples in analogous situations..”

Let us not forget the realities of our days

We live at a time when it is foolish to expect milk of human kindness from our government. We are in the Realm of Darkness where the MNCs and their institutions rule. We know how ‘Democracy’ is being undermined; and circumstances have been created for the emergence and triumph of ‘Corporatocracy’. Market has kissed all our institutions with its commercial culture where virtues and vices are mere commodities for sale. Such a system becomes demonic, and its government becomes, in effect, ‘sponsored’. When things come to this pass, corruptions become endemic. This is the inevitable outcome when there emerges a clear unholy alliance between the vested interests and governments.

Conclusion

We must struggle to save our souls and our country. We have democratic rights to protest and resist. We are well within our rights to resort to ‘satyagraha’, Even ‘fasting’ can be used to move people, and to bring some public issue of great importance under public focus. But never think of a fast that harms health. Life must be preserved as the कर्म सामिग्री with which even the Satygraha can be carried on. The best environment for our common pursuit for a good cause is just a sustained constant pursuit trying to generate an ethos in which the words of the Rig-Veda become relevant:

समानो व आकूतिः समाना हृदयानि वः
समानमस्तु वो मनो यथा वः सुसहासतिं

               ‘Your purpose in pursuits should be common/ your mind should be in harmony with that of others./ Your heart should bleed for the weal of all / As this broadness alone will herald your welfare / and will strengthen the strength of your Union.’

My only purpose for scribbling these lines in this post at my Blog is to underscore the point that a fast unto death is unwise.  Life must be saved as the instrument (कर्म सामिग्री ) to work to perform one’s duty towards our nation. .

This ‘Taj Mahal Economy’ and the woes of the poor

What has led me to reflect on the ‘Taj Mahal Economy’ and the woes of the poor’ is the report  on ‘Spurt in farmer suicides in Bundelkhand’ published in the Times of India of June 13, 2011. This is the story of poverty and indebtedness in one of the most historically glorious regions of our country. The story, drenched in pathos, pertains mainly six adjoining districts Banda, Hamirpur, Jhansi, Lalitpur, Mahoba, Chitrakoot and Jalaun. The report presents a comprehensive account of people’s sufferings: it says—:

“Locals here say most of the suicides are by indebted farmers, their world darkened by the burden. The actual number, however, is difficult to tell. Official figures confirm 519 suicides in the seven districts in the first five months of this year. This figure includes all suicides. But even if one were to go by the official figures, there has been an alarming rise in the rate of suicides in the last five months. In the 12 months of 2009, there were 568 suicides in the seven districts against 519 in just the first five months of this year. In 2010, 583 suicides were recorded. Between 2001 and 2005, there were 1,275 cases of suicide (the period includes 2002 and 2004, two harsh drought years).”

My heart went to the suffering people of that region. I had traveled widely in that area, and had seen the plight of people. My reflections brought to my mind what I had written sometime back on the economic model that our government and the neo-liberal think-tanks are pursuing these days.  I  think appropriate to tell you, (a)  what I  mean by the ‘Taj Mahal Economy’;  and (b)  the depravity and ‘moral deficit’ of our high GDP-driven society with demonic tendencies most pronounced.

(a)  Our ‘Taj Mahal Economy’

I have called the present-day economic management the “Taj Mahal Economy”. This heading may not appeal to the amour propre of the economists of Yale, Chicago or Cambridge till they catch its suggested import. I would tell you how this expression ‘Taj Mahal Economy’ came to my mind. It came to my mind while studying the economic management of Emperor Shah Jahan who got constructed a mausoleum, the Taj Mahal, at Agra to commemorate his love for his deceased wife Mumtaz Mahal. It is considered world-famous as “the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage.” Thousands of artisans and craftsmen sweated over more than two decades turning stones into an expanding metaphor of love or exploitation (depending on how you look at it). The tomb was described by a poetic genius as “one tear-drop…upon the cheek of Time”. This Taj was built when the Mughal prosperity was at its best. The Great Mughals had reached its cultural acme, and had acquired renown world over which our historians tend to describe with passionate intensity, and ever waxing pride. The feudal lords and the denizens of the privileged classes rolled in luxury pretending a cultivated taste and  rich aesthetic sensibility. It was again Shah Jahan who had built his Diwan-i-Khas with precious stones studded  in the ceiling exhibiting the glitter of gold, and the shine of the choicest marble believing, as the inscription engraved on it says, he was in the Eden of Bliss on the Earth:

Agar firdaus bar ru-yi zamin ast
Hamin ast, u hamin ast, u hamin ast.

But the best of times was also the worst of times. The commoners of the great Mughal Empire could eke out their living only  by becoming the  beasts of burden, or at best mere serfs. Didn’t the Emperor and his advisors believe in something like the ‘trickle-down effect’ theory of our present-day economists? Assuming that the imperial expenditure was made as a strategy of response to the terrible famine which broke out in 1556-1557 in the neighborhood of Agra and Biyana, and Badauni, it can be well said that  the remedy was outright foolish. Spending the State’s resources over the construction of the Taj Mahal or the Diwan-i-Khas might have brought joy for the Emperor, and those chosen-people of his realm who needed some glamourous rendezvous, but for the rest of people these were cruel jokes cut with macabre taste. Whatever the artisans, craftsmen and the labourers earned as daily wages were lost in the expenditure on luxuries peddled out by the swarming sellers of drink and lascivious mujras . The great poet Sumitranandan Pant wrote a poem on the ‘Taj’ where he said (to render it in English from Hindi):

What an amazing and celestial worship of Death,
Whilst the people remained despondent under gloom.

He was rightly shocked by this arrogant extravaganza mocking the poor of those days. Shah Jahan knew their plight, but, like our present-day wielders of power, indulged in crystal gazing. He must have known that in 1556-1557 (and even thereafter) in the neighborhood of Agra and Biyana, and Badauni “men ate their own kind and the appearance of the famished sufferers was so hideous that one could scarcely look upon them…. The whole country was a desert, and no husband-man remained to till the ground”. ‘The horrors of this calamity were so great that, as ‘Abdul Hamid Lahori, the official historian of the reign of Shah Jahan, writes, “men began to devour each other, and the flesh of a son was preferred to his love” [Majumdar, Raychaudhuri & Datta, An Advanced History of India p.564]. A Dutch merchant, who witnessed the calamity, notes that “men lying in the street, not yet dead, were cut up by others, and men fed on living men, so that even in the streets, and still more on road journeys, men ran great danger of being murdered or eaten”. Shah Jahan “opened a few soup-kitchens”, distributed 1½ lacs of rupees in charity and remitted one-eleventh of the land-revenue assessment; but this could not suffice to mitigate the sufferings of the starving people.’ [How close is this strategic response to what our government has done to alleviate the suffering of the starving farmers in our country!] The nobles and the rich  considered the sound of ghungroos as the very index of people’s welfare in Shah Jahan’s or Wazid Ali Shah’s time.   This state of affairs contemplate the classes of he exploiters and the exploited. This was the world in which,  as William Blake says:

Some are born to Sweet delight,
Some are Born to Endless Night.

(b)  Even this can happen; oh, no, this has already happened

In Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, the rich General lived  ‘on his  estate  with  its  two  thousand  serfs, imagining  himself  to  be God’, and had ‘his  hangers-on and  clowns’.  He had ‘hundreds of   hounds and just about as many kennel attendants, all dressed in special livery and everyone of them mounted’.  Dostoyevsky does not tell us how many entertainers that creature had, and how many he had acting as the ‘pleasure providers’, beauticians, image-makers, advertisers, procurers, and go-getters.  You can get an idea about that sub-human creature, if you go through the novel.  Dostoyevsky also tells us how one Richard lived under circumstances in which he enjoyed developing   a “longing to eat the slops given to the pigs to fatten them up for the market”.  Do you know what this great food ‘slops’ was? ‘Slops’ is defined in a dictionary to mean: ‘wet feed (especially for pigs) consisting of mostly kitchen waste’.  I think the General might have needed at least 1000 men and women for his comforts. As we live in the society of calculators, there is no harm if I calculate  certain somber figures  to transmit a  message that I would not be able to transmit  merely  by scribbling  lines of words. Think dear friends: how many humans one super-rich would need to help him to live   the way the General lived in The Brothers Karamazov? If one super-rich needs 1000 persons to work for his comforts and to promote his vanity, 10000 such super-rich creatures would require 10000000 human beings!  Such super-rich creatures tend to believe that they are the great benefactors of the downtrodden: thus promoting a cause so dear to Christianity! Their hired intellectuals, and managed institutions would write tomes with graphics and statistics to prove that the problem of unemployment stands solved, and the best days ahead are being designed for the suffering humanity. They claim that all the ‘employable’ people would get employment, and none need bother about the unemployable that must be left at the mercy of the market-forces. It is the market’s ‘Invisible Hand’ that would decide which sections amongst them are to be preserved and nursed to provide the work-force for the oligarchy controlling the ‘Invisible Hand’, which sections to be tolerated as the organ-farmers for the corporate-farmers to reap super profits, which sections can be used as commodities  (called res commercium), and which sections, wholly of no use, : hence deserving elimination  through devices which might include  making wombs barren through genetic engineering, or making such beings eat chemically treated food!!!?

What sort of democratic society we are building when in this country, Bharat, one can spend more than  $ 1 billion on his house to be looked after by more than 700 ordinary mortals.  You can imagine how many persons for comforts that superrich would employ giving occasions to our economists to show how salutary is the new-capitalism’s ‘trickle-down effect’ What I have said is not an absurdity: it has already taken place in our Mumbai, in our country with a democratic socialist constitution with an unmistakable signature tune of Justice, Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity for ensuring dignity to all.   What sort of society we are building where we allow the mighty silhouettes straddle majestically in the Realm of Darkness which the fraternity of crooks has created just because we trusted our watchers who failed in keeping them under vigilance. Modern history would record a series of the greatest betrayals of trust in different spheres, including the academic world. We see around us the insanity and delirium under which the blood-suckers are sucking our nation’s resources:  we see how the MNCs are sipping our blood from our hearts like the proverbial Vampires about which we have read only with suspended disbelief.

(c) Conclusion

‘Justice’ is in effect nothing but ‘fair play’. It rejects a resort to deception and camouflage to promote greed in its variegated manifestations. The system is surely unfair if it facilities a segment to scale heights in wealth, but others to die as destitutes, or live on mango-kernels, or live life worse than that of the animals, or whose voice is not heard in the din and bustle of the high pressure advertisement and the craft of the murky strategists. Such a system deserves to be undone: whether through creative destruction or destructive creation.

Mahatma Gandhi had said (as displayed in Gandhi Smriti, Birla House, New Delhi):

“I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test:

Recall the face of the poorest and weakest man whom you have seen and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to Swaraj for the hungry and spiritually starving millions?

Then you will find your doubts and yourself melting away.”

Is it foolish if I conclude that the talisman that Mahatma Gandhi had given to our decision-makers of our free India has already been lost; or simply cast off in some secret jurisdictions, or declared at our Stock Exchange as a thing of no worth.