Saturday, September 22, 2012

the ignorant Indian

The Argumentative Indian ( a la Amartya Sen) has been replaced by The Ignorant Indian. Money does not grow on trees, ignorant Indians were informed yesterday by the Prime Minister. They have reacted with disbelief, and a sense of outrage.

These words are familiar to even toddlers who are thus admonished by exasperated parents when they persist in demanding an object of desire that the parent cannot afford. It is entirely possible that the toddler does not understand the phrase and perhaps tries in vain to understand what money is. As he grows older, however, the concepts of income and  expenditure begin to get assimilated, the fact that incomes have to be earned, and that income and expenditure have to be balanced. The average Indian child sees his parents balancing monthly budgets, annual budgets, festival budgets, wedding budgets. He sees how sudden illnesses demanding expenditure on medical care upsets the budget for months, and sometimes years. He sees money being saved and put aside for a two wheeler or a car or a dowry or higher education. There are exceptions, of course --- perhaps the Ambanis and Jindals and Adanis do not burden their children with such knowledge. (Even the privileged children grow up to understand these concepts ----- how else  will the business he inherits continue to make profits ? ) 

So who was the Prime Minister talking down to? Is our government so removed from reality that it does not credit the citizen with even common sense? Is it so arrogant in its belief in its infallibility that it does not make even a pretense of respecting the very people who have voted it to power? 

This is not a Prime Minister given to making extempore speeches. He does not make frequent addresses or Parliamentary interventions, nor does he conduct weekly press briefings. This is a Prime Minister whom we hardly ever hear, so the very safe presumption is that the address he delivered yesterday was carefully scripted, and was delivered with complete knowledge of its content and deliberate intent ---- and it insulted the intelligence of the ordinary Indian.

The Prime Minister did not choose to address the nation when the CAG report on coal allocations was presented in the Parliament, and a whole session of the Parliament was washed out.The CAG report has cast strong doubts upon the bona fides of the whole policy making and execution mechanism of the nation, including the Prime Minister. Yet, the Prime Minister spoke only of the need to take measures that lead to restoration of investor confidence, with not a whit of concern shown for the complete erosion of citizen confidence in the government.In fact, so strong is the government's apparent belief in the credulousness of the "ignorant" Indian that he has been asked by the Prime Minister to extend his "trust", "understanding" and 'cooperation" as the government takes "hard" decisions to secure national interest. Please note that the "hard" decisions extract a disproportionately high cost from the ordinary Indian, they place scarcely any burden at all upon the privileged Indians whose "big cars" and "SUVs" do not face any additional tax burden. 

We are living in strange times indeed ---when the price of inclusive growth is being paid by the very people who are sought to be included in the growth story! Perhaps the government believes we are oblivious to this irony.  I do not think we are, and it is time that we made that known.   


  1. Interesting thought. I slightly disagree though. While on an individual level, we may be well aware that money doesn't grow on trees, when it comes to collective politico-economic understanding, a large portion (or should i say electorally important) portion of our population doesn't seem to (or want to) understand.

    Examples abound - the DF govt. in Maharashtra doled out free power to farmers in the election year of 2004 and was voted back to power. Never mind that the jinxed Dabhol power project was the only power generating unit added to the state grid in a decade before.

    The free-power-for-farmers experiment has been replicated successfully elsewhere too. The DMK gave away free TVs and won, every southern election has at least one party promising rice at Rs. 2/kg... every body who even casually observes elections knows how much cash and biryani and liquor are fed to the voting public to bribe them for votes.. the list of freebies is endless.

    I have a strong feeling that if the UPA manages to get its cash transfer scheme out the door in time, it will come back to power again despite spending pretty much the whole 5 yrs in office on the back foot fighting allegations of massive corruption, non-governance, inflation etc.

    It is ironic that while the common man, in his own financial life, understands that money doesn't grow on trees, he still seems to gladly give his vote for govt. freebies. And if i'm wrong about the common man, then the least that would surely happen is that the opposition parties would go to town howling in protest against every govt. decision to cut down on freebies and subsidies. The PM's statement was probably aimed more at opposition parties than the common man.

  2. the aam aadmi sees the same road being re- built after every monsoon because the previous year's repairs were mostly on paper ---- the money got routed into the bank accounts of the bureaucrats and politicians --- but there WAS money, right, which did not grow on trees but was collected from the aam aadmi ---- even a BPL aam aadmi knows that