Category Archives: Economy

Why censorship cannot be selective, especially on the Internet

The Union Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal definitely bit more than he could chew when he peremptorily demanded that content on popular websites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube must be reviewed before it appears online. He actually suggested that dedicated employees of these websites must individually go through each post, review it, and let it be published only after approval according to the guidelines provided by the government.

Deservedly, #IdiotKapilSibal or something of that nature was one of the hot trends on various blogs and social networking websites. Deservedly, because being the Telecom minister he should know that, given the amount of information generated on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google, it is not, with current technology, humanly possible to go through each post before it is published, because millions of updates are posted every day. These guys still seem to be living in the 80s when government babus and politicians decided what people should know and what they should say. They don’t realize that the Internet is a communication and information juggernaut that cannot be controlled by a single government or a single agency.

Can it be controlled? Sure it can be, but then multiple countries will have to come together and take collective measures.

But that’s not the point. The point is, censorship can never be selective. Kapil Sibal says he never meant to censor all of the Internet, he just wants “objectionable” content to be removed from these websites. What’s objectionable? Anything, according to him and his supporters, that can incite communal violence and social unrest. But according to the Congress the Anna Hazare movement was a sign of social unrest. Would it want its online presence removed, such as Twitter accounts and Facebook pages?

Even among the so-called intellectuals there is lots of confusion and obfuscation regarding what can be deemed as objectionable. On a TV debate yesterday on the same issue Suhail Seth first supported the stand of the government saying that content that can cause communal and religious strife must be removed or censored, and then in the same sentence he lamented the fact that MF Hussein paintings depicting naked Hindu gods in various awkward positions cannot be displayed publicly. So why cannot works of “art” that a certain community finds obnoxious be removed from public view when objectionable content should be removed from the Internet? Who decides that your work is art and freedom of expression and mine is an incitement?

Of course there is tons of objectionable content on the Internet and some of it can make you puke instantly, but there is one thing people don’t understand. The Internet is not the conventional “media”. It is just like the real world, but existing digitally. It is a parallel world. Just like in the real world there are good things and bad things and we have to take the both, the similar is the case with the Internet. You have social groups, you can hold interactions and meetings, you can post content, you can react to the content being posted, you can hold protests, you can organize campaigns, you can virtually visit different parts of the world, you can be exposed to various new ideas and ideologies, you can meet new people from all parts of the world, and you can obtain information that would have been available to you so easily had the Internet not been there. Just like the real world, there are good people and there are bad people. And in fact, there is greater restraint on the Internet compared to the normal world because it is actually in your hand what you want to see and what you want to propagate.

The supporters of Internet censorship say that something really vile and revolting can go viral and hurt certain communities. First of all, lots of content has gone viral on the Internet and up till now there has been not even a single instance of something hateful and obnoxious going viral. People don’t forward or repost videos and images that can hurt religious sentiments. Of course there are lots of videos and images lampooning our “esteemed” politicians that sometimes go viral, but then who says that our politicians must be kept on a pedestal and be treated like holy cows? Why is it blasphemous to show Manmohan Singh dancing with Sonia Gandhi in a morphed image taken from Dirty Picture?

Should people like Kapil Sibal and his cronies be taken seriously? They should be, because these people run the government and they are actually in a position to cause grave injury to our democracy and freedom of expression. Even if they cannot curtail the Internet and implement censorship in a degree they want, their mentality is quite dangerous and this is not a new manifestation. Remember that it was the Congress that imposed the Emergency. It was the Congress that tried to curb the freedom of the press through the Press Bill. In the early 2000s as soon as it came to power it tried to block popular blogging services so that people could not express their opinions. So this is a party that nurtures Draconian proclivities, so definitely such pronunciations must be taken seriously and people must protest as vocally as possible. In the guise of censoring objectionable content they want to throttle your freedom of expression and the only outlet you have got – the Internet.

Their hatred for freedom of expression also emanates from the fact that most of the Indians are lowly creatures, perpetually wallowing in the “mai-baap” mentality and how dare they speak up against the Almighty ministers? I think that is the biggest issue, not some security threat or a possibility of communal violence that is nothing but balderdash.

What our economy needs right now

I’m not an economist so I’m writing this just as a layperson.

I think there are 2 things our policymakers can do to sort out the economy, in fact 3 things:

  • Make economic corruption one of the most heinous crimes
  • Retrieve all the money that is earned by corrupt (by corrupt means)
  • Make the rich pay more money in the form of taxes

A lot of India’s problems can be solved if corruption is taken care of because it eats into whatever development takes place. It is a big financial burden and the great disincentive for common people to engage in entrepreneurship and contribute towards the overall growth of the country. Simply starting a small business can be a nightmare, still, in many parts of the country.

Billions of rupees have been stashed away by the corrupt and this money can be productively used for the benefit of the country. I’m not aware of the exact figures, but many claim if India can retrieve the money that has been stolen from the country’s coffers India will not only repay its entire debt a lot of extra cash will be left for other work. So this must be done on a war footing because this cash is basically lying there and all it needs is a strong political will to get it back.

And now taxing the rich more — something to the tune of what Obama is trying to achieve. No, I am not against the rich but I think it is not going to put a personal strain on their affluence it for some years they have to pay more taxes. Let us say I have 50 crores stashed away in my bank – it is all white money. What harm does it do to me if I have to give say, 5 crores to the country? Of course it is my hard earned money but I’m not actually creating a better world for my children if the rest of my country remains poor and backward. I’m sure not every rich person in the country wants to eventually settle in Europe or America. So if they envisage themselves living in the country in their old age and their children prospering here, they should invest in the overall growth of the country.

Of the three suggestions I have made, the 3rd one rests upon the success of the first 2. As a rich person why should I part with my hard earned money when I’m sure that 95% of that money is going to go in the pockets of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats? So the third phenomena can only take place if the first two are implemented properly.

What do you think?

Why I Support Narendra Modi

Update [March 20, 2014]: I had forgotten that I had already written a blog post on this topic and I wrote another one on Medium. You can read it on this link. Update ends

I support Narendra Modi using the same logic that I used to support Anna Hazare and his team: whatever might be his fundamental flaws, he seems to be good for the country. I don’t believe in getting stuck in a singular idea of “this person is bad” or “that method is bad” and just to prove a point drown myself in a well of illogical arguments.

First of all, I agree that whatever happened in Gujarat (during riots) was a terrible tragedy and it should not have happened and even if Modi was not directly orchestrating the riots, he was guilty of not controlling them, or not being able to control them. I believe every riot can be controlled and if somebody tells me that things were beyond his or her hands, it seems very scary. It is something like, a country attacks us, and we couldn’t control its soldiers. So no, I don’t see a halo around Modi. Every citizen of our country is important irrespective of his religion or class and hence deserves protection during internal and external turmoil.

Why I support Modi is because he is less dangerous compared to the other crop of politicians that we have. Take for instance people in the Congress party. Just as the government of Narendra Modi is held responsible for Gujarat riots, the Congress party is held responsible for the 1984 anti-Sikh riots that happened in the wake of the assassination of Indira Gandhi. Just as Narendra Modi said

Every action has a reaction

(he was referring to the Godhra incident in which a train full of Hindu kar sevaks was set ablaze by a rampaging Muslim mob)

Rajiv Gandhi had said

The earth is bound to shake when a big tree falls

(he was referring to the unhindered slaughter of more than 3000 Sikhs after Indira Gandhi’s assassination by his Sikh bodyguards)

In both the cases, the state failed to protect its citizens from its own citizens.

Not many people are aware of this fact but the Congress party is the most communal party India has ever had. Although it does not openly instigate one community against another it constantly plays the communal insecurity card (look, only we can keep you safe from Hindu fanatics) to garner minority votes. It would have gladly mollycoddled the Hindu vote bank but the problem with Hindus is that they are severely divided among different castes and sub-castes and so are their votes.

Additionally, in the garb of protecting the minorities, it has plundered the country like hell, and this is where the crux of the problem lies. It constantly plays the communal card, and it is also responsible for keeping most of the country backward, poor, insecure and illiterate. The party is solely responsible for the mess our country right now is in terms of economy, corruption, development and terrorism.

People who think that it was the Congress that opened up the economy are gravely mistaken. First of all, it was the Congress that nationalized everything and openly supported socialist/Marxist ways of running the country right from the days of Jawaharlal Nehru. Do you know that multinational companies like Coca-Cola and IBM had to windup and leave because private enterprise was severely curtailed and wherever it was allowed (Tatas, Birlas, etc.) it was done at the cost of healthy competition and efficiency? No single file could be moved without greasing the palms of bureaucracy and the political class.

Regarding the Congress opening up the economy and liberalizing the industry, they were arm twisted into doing that. The country was running bankrupt and the World Bank had refused to sanction loans. Since lots of World Bank money goes into the pockets of politicians (the World Bank is aware of that), they would have been in big trouble had they not initiated the scam of liberalizing the economy. After that, whatever followed was incidental and random. That is why, we seem to be advancing, but with no real results. The rich are getting richer due to obvious reasons and the poor are getting poorer due to obvious reasons. Whatever “boom” you get awed at — call center employees and software coolies — too is incidental and what they call, ancillary.

Narendra Modi on the other hand is doing some real, solid development in Gujarat. Has there been a single scandal (aside from secular breast-beating and Modi-baiting industry) ever since he became the CM? There is no law and order problem in most of the areas. A neighbor of ours shifted to Gujarat last year and he told they don’t even have to lock their doors while going out and everything is so affordable and good (they were constantly encouraging us to move there too).

Modi is making great progress in the fields of road transport, education, production and alternative energy. He personally conducts business and industry summits and invites large corporations to invest in the State. He constantly visits foreign countries to promote the cause of Gujarat (wich Chief Minister – except from perhaps Naidu – does that?). In fact the State of Gujarat is years ahead of the remaining country when it comes to producing solar and wind energy.

Some people want Rahul Gandhi to be the PM simply because he’s cute. Using the same logic, I would like Narendra Modi to become the PM because he has great oratory skills and unlike most of the Congress leaders, he doesn’t have to read a script while giving a speech. Have you ever observed how Manmohan Singh or Pranab Mukherjee cannot even raise their eyes from the papers they are reading from even for a couple of seconds? It shows whatever they say never comes out of their heart or brain.

So if it is a communal Modi plus development and freedom from corruption on one side and a disguised-communal government with disguised development that never actually takes place on another, any given day I’m going to go with the former choice even without baiting an eyelid.

With fuel prices rising every second week people should

start using bicycles on a regular basis. On Google news I read that the BJD MLAs rode bicycles in protest against the recent fuel price hike. But why ride bicycles just for protest sake? It’s healthy. It keeps your body healthy, mind alert, and helps you reduce your carbon footprint to boot. It’s a win-win situation. The government gets more money and you get more healthy and less greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere.

Since awareness programs in our country don’t work (people are too smart ass for their own good) the government is trying to make us healthy and build our character. It wants us to live on bare minimums and that is fine. Don’t use vehicles, and if possible telecommute. Going to office is so 1990s. Be creative if vegetables and fruits get expensive. Learn to preserve resources, after all our kids will anyway be living on scarce resources. Spend less or work harder to earn more — again a win-win situation.

My thoughts on the current budget

More than 50% of the wheat that we consume is imported. According to the 2006-7 data the share of agriculture in our GDP is 18.5% and 52% of the country’s workforce is engaged in agriculture. So I wonder how a loan cushion of Rs. 60,000 crores, declared in yesterday’s budget for the year, is going to help the farmers in particular and the country’s agriculture in general. The problem is, most of the farming population is extremely poor and has no means to approach banks and other lending institutions. They mostly depend upon local moneylenders. So this waiver, what a business standard article terms as “the mother of all loan waivers” is only going to make the rich farmers richer. There is nothing theoretically or ideologically wrong in making the rich farmers richer but when the exchequer has to pay for them in the name of helping the poor farmers it becomes a bit of a nag.

There are estimated to be 40 million farmers in the country and with Rs. 60,000 crores every farmer should ideally get Rs. 15,000. Is it really going to help? Even a child who has no basic knowledge of economics (I’m not trying to underestimate a child’s intelligence, it is just a hypothesis) would tell you that it would have really benefited the farmers if this amount of money could be used to build better infrastructure for the farmers, to make better, environment-friendly farming technologies available, and help them pay back the loans whether they had taken them from institutions or local moneylenders. Remember that Chinese proverb that give a fish to a man and you have fed him for a day and teach him how to fish and you have fed him for life?

Instead of loan waivers the farmers need better roads, telecommunications, enough water to irrigate their fields, uninterrupted power supply, and health and education for their loved ones. A one-time waiver doesn’t really solve the problem; it just creates a psychological mirage.

Anyway, this is a political move and no party in its right mind is going to oppose it. In fact the BJP is terming this gargantuan waiver as “too little too late”.

Some people are definitely going to be happy along with the farmers. Excise duty and customs have been reduced to curb the inflation. The tax limit too has been increased; people earning Rs. 500,000 per year will be able to save Rs. 50,000 per year now and that means some extra cash to buy things and this may spur the sluggish industrial growth.

What would I do were I given Rs. 7,50,884 crores to spend on the country? There are three areas of major concern: defense, infrastructure and human resources. The expenditure on defense and defense-related R&D cannot be underestimated. With Pakistan ready to create mischief perpetually and China comes knocking at our doors at the drop of a hat; defense is something we cannot ignore. So I would spend around 20% and not 14%. You can see for yourself how serious the government is for the safety of the country that it is waiving Rs. 60,000 (around $15 billion) crores and is allocating Rs 1,05,600 ($26.4 billion) to defense.

Then I would allocate 25% to education and health. Our country needs proper education both in terms of human resources as well as infrastructure, and we need healthy people. People in India are extremely weak and that is the major reason why as the country we don’t perform the way we should. There is some problem with our dieting habits because even economically well-off people in India don’t seem fit and healthy. Elementary health services would be totally free and foods that give us nourishment would be dirt cheap.

Our current education system might be producing better scientists and computer programmers but it is definitely not producing better and healthier citizens; something drastically lacks. This allocation would include world-class facilities to both students and teachers. We need more schools and higher pays for teachers so that just like management and technology teaching too becomes a financially satisfying career. Most of the people become teachers because either they are too lazy to do anything else or they don’t get a job anywhere else. I would also like the adult population to get educated or at least literate so I would provide financial incentives to the grown-ups for joining evening classes.

What are we left with now? 55%. 30% would go into developing countrywide infrastructure. This should include roads and railways, and other structures that make life easy as well as productive. This will not only improve quality of life in general it will also provide long-term employment to millions of people. I would invest more on technologies and methodologies that don’t screw up with environment and flora and fauna. Power and electricity and telecommunications are the backbone of any growing economy so they deserve more focus and investment.

5% would go towards improving internal security and 10% would go towards improving the law and order. In my economy people won’t need loan waivers and subsidies, not even as incentives.

The remaining 10% could go towards things that got left above. Seems like a silly list. Well, I’m not an economist.

[tags]budget 2008, indian budget[/tags]