Massive Economic Costs Of India’s Pollution Problem

As many as 15 of the world’s most air polluted cities are in India. Together, these cities are home to more than 700 million people who are exposed to the ill effects of bad air. But what is the economic impact of the deteriorating air quality that afflicts India’s cities? The most recent assessment of that relates to 2013. A World Bank study shows that in just that one year, India lost more than 8.5% of its GDP owing to pollution.

More recent studies have shown that if India could manage to cut the level of pollution, its economy could benefit by many billions. An Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) study says if pollution is brought down to levels where it is not a health hazard, the economy could benefit by $300-400 billion a year. India wants to be a five-trillion-dollar economy in the next few years but reaching that target could be slowed down because of many economic factors but also the environmental crisis that the country faces.

The problem is pollution levels spike to alarmingly hazardous levels during the colder months in India when suspended particulate matter tends to remain in the air close to the ground. The outrage, shock, and protests also spike seasonally. But when things get better as the warmer months approach, all the noise winds down and the concerns about pollution get dissipated.

Air pollution in India ought not to be viewed as an environmental problem. It is an economic problem that comes with huge costs—both in terms of health as well as economic efficiencies. China, another huge country with a large population and densely inhabited cities, has had severe pollution problems but it has coped with them far more sensibly. That is because China looks at tackling pollution as a national economic problem and not merely one that is environmental. India must do the same.

Let’s take Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR) as an example. Every year, the NCR has notoriously high levels of pollution in the winter months. Air Quality Indices shoot through the roof; respiratory ailments among its population reach nearly epidemic proportions; dense smog leads to vehicular and air traffic snarl-ups; and, consequently, economic losses mount.

Delhi and the NCR region is home to more than 25 million people. Vehicular emissions, and emissions from power plants and other factories contribute to Delhi’s poor air quality. But so does the practice of stubble burning by farmers in the adjoining states of Punjab and Haryana. Farmers prefer to burn the post-harvest stubble of crops as they see it as a cost efficient way of preparing the land for re-planting of crops. The problem is the smoke and emissions from burning blow into the NCR zone, spiking pollution levels.

Many attempts have been made to find alternative solutions for farmers and to educate and make them aware about the hazardous consequence of stubble burning. Unfortunately, none of these has made significant impact in curbing the practice. The reason is that many of the alternative approaches to getting rid of crop stubble are expensive.

But there is hope. Scientists at the National Centre of Organic Farming have reportedly found that “waste decomposing” could be a reasonably priced option for farmers to get rid of the stubble without the pollution hazards that burning leads to. According to media reports, for as little as Rs 20 per acre, stubble can be decomposed without toxic side effects. What is more, the organic decomposer is also believed to enhance the soil fertility of the land on which it is used. It also increases the level of organic carbon in soil and, may even have benefits to fight some pests.

At least one state—Haryana—has been offering subsidies to farmers to encourage them to adopt the waste decomposer and there has been some encouraging response from them to do so. Such innovations need to be introduced in other states, notably Punjab, too. However, there are other problems. Agriculture accounts for the livelihood of nearly three-quarters of India’s population of 1.3 billion. It is also a political sensitive arena. India’s farmers have been facing a crisis in recent years. Farm produce prices do not compensate them enough. Farm holdings are predominantly of small sizes and small and medium farmers have been burdened by debt.

Political parties, particularly in the more agrarian states do not think it is wise to meddle with farm practices that have traditionally been in use for decades if not centuries. Farmers are a huge vote bank for most parties and political motives come in the way of persuading them to adopt new practices that are sometimes perceived by them to be alien. That has to change with the times and as the pollution problem aggravates, there are few alternatives than to usher in practices that are more environment friendly.

Crop stubble burning, however, is just one of many new practices that have to be adopted by India. Vehicular emissions can be controlled by stricter norms on vehicle operation. Delhi has tried the “odd-even system” of allowing cars and other vehicles on its roads. Under that system, on alternate days vehicles with odd and even numbered registration plates are allowed to ply. That met with protests and had to be canned.

The NCR area is also largely free of restrictive zones for manufacturing industries that emit toxic particles. Strict enforcement of zones to ensure that residential areas and industrial areas do not conflate and that factories are pushed outside of the urban areas have to be adopted. Governments have to realise that fight against pollution is an all-round, all-year fight and not one that causes concern only in the winter months when air quality levels become hazardous.

The Forever Fragrance Of ‘Kaagaz Ke Phool’

Why talk of a film made 60 years ago that was a super-flop?

Because it would be trite to measure a world classic in terms of the revenue earned.

Kaagaz Ke Phool (Paper Flowers) was released in August 1959. With all its flaws — and they were many — it remains one of the most admired and discussed in Indian cinema.

In 2002, Sight and Sound, the venerable magazine of the British Film Institute, ranked Kaagaz… 160th among the greatest films ever made. Some others have ranked it higher. In Bollywood, it turns up on all lists as one of the best Hindi films of all time, among the top 10 if not the top five.

It was removed after a week or two after its release in the few theatres it was shown. Impatient viewers, the story goes, pelted the screen with stones in New Delhi’s (now closed down) Regal theatre.

Yet, it is talked about with the same enthusiasm as Mughal-e-Azam, made a year later, the magnificent 16th century love story of Akbar the Great, his rebellious son Salim and the latter’s love Anarkali, a court retainer.

As a student, I repeated seeing ‘Kaagaz…’ within 24 hours, spending meagre pocket money. I remember selling some old books and magazines to pay for a third viewing.

Regarded by many as India’s equivalent of Sunset Boulevard, Kaagaz… became a commercial hit, not when released, not at home, but at its 1984 re-release in Germany, France and Japan.

By that time Guru Dutt, the protagonist and others who had put life into the movie, had passed away. Waheeda Rehman, whom Dutt turns into a star but courts controversy, is the only key player alive. 

Dutt acted, produced, wrote the story and directed it. It is a long flashback about a famous film director, Suresh Sinha. He meets Shanti, played by Waheeda, on a rainy night. By a stroke of creative inspiration, he makes her the heroine in his next film. Shanti becomes a star.

Their proximity causes gossip. Scandalised at school, Suresh’s daughter confronts Shanti. Heartbroken, she abandons her career.

His personal life is a mess since he married above his station. His wife and her aristocratic family of British India’s civil service are contemptuous of his profession.

Suresh turns to alcohol, loses everything. “Self-respect is the only thing I am left with,” he tells Shanti who entreats him to return to film-making. Suresh returns to the grand studio, only to sit on the Director’s chair and die.

I think the film was ahead of its time. Its theme was too radical for the Indian audiences of the 1950s, used to simpler plots and storylines. The underlying tones of the film were complex.

A wife being the villain seemed unacceptable when ‘Kaagaz…’ was widely viewed as autobiographical. Reel life and real life got mixed up in public mind. Dutt’s real-life wife Geeta, a renowned singer and a picture of grace and beauty, received much unsought-for sympathy.

It was a technological landmark, the first to be shot in 70mm CinemaScope. But that was also its undoing. India then had less than 10 theatres with wide screen. With such constraints, commercial failure was foregone. Yet, it was critically acclaimed and won several awards.

In that era of black-and-white posters, it had the two lead actors together, with a rose in red.

Ironically, 51 years after filming Kaagaz… in 2010, the long-forgotten Murthy, at 86, was honoured with the Dadasaheb Phalke Award. This was after film analyst Gautam Kaul projected him as a freedom fighter who had gone to jail before joining films. Murthy remains the only ‘technical’ man to win a Phalke.  

His black-and-white photography wove Kaifi Azmi’s lyrics into sheer poetry. S D Burman’s music, capturing the pathos, was sublime.

Many I know came out of the theatre crying. Six decades on, the impact on one’s sensitivities is the same. Songs “Bichhde sabhi baari baari” and “Waqt ne diya” are timeless.

In the post-War II era of Indian cinema, when stars called the shots, Guru Dutt, like Raj Kapoor, was an actor-director. Ironically, both Kapoor and Dutt, when they made autobiographicals, failed to woo audiences. Kapoor’s Mera Naam Joker and Dutt’s Kaagaz… were super-flops initially. Yet, they remain among the most debated films.

Although Hollywood’s impact was huge, Kaagaz… remains essentially Indian. It was unique in an era when, to the world outside, Indian cinema was more about mythology, of endless songs and dances and about social issues for which the West had neither knowledge, nor patience to comprehend.

His transparent concern about his creativity and his total honesty in narrating his personal traumas make his films unique.

Alas, Dutt’s master-touch was missing in its screenplay. Kaagaz… dragged. Late film historian Firoze Rangoonwalla records: “It was shot very lovingly. But the subject and its treatment made it a dismal failure.”

Dutt was so shattered at the failure of his opus that he lost the appetite for experimentation.

His next film, Chaudahavin Ka Chand, was a love triangle in the north Indian Muslim milieu, though alluring, was ‘safe’.

Distributors who had lost money on ‘Kaagaz…” refused to release the new film unless Dutt made advance payments. This hurt him.

A story goes that when he was haggling with them, a telegram arrived from Los Angeles. A copy of ‘Kaagaz’ had been taken to Hollywood by Dutt’s cinematographer V.K. Murthy, who had earlier worked there and earned credits for, among other films, Karl Foreman’s The Guns of Navarone.

Murthy showed Kaagaz… to a select audience that included the legendary Cecil B. DeMille, maker of The Ten Commandments.

On receiving DeMille’s congratulatory telegram, Dutt, defying his financiers, sold the film to a new set of distributors. It was a super-hit that made Dutt solvent again. But he could not salvage Kaagaz.

Abrar Alvi, who scripted both films, called Dutt “the Hamlet of Indian Cinema, a restless man but genuine and sincere to the core”.

Dutt made outstanding films. But after Kaagaz, he did not take chances with technology and themes and did not take the directorial credit.

He died young, at 39, his many dreams unfulfilled, leaving behind the image of a tormented soul, on and off the screen.

Kaagaz… may not move the average present-day audiences used to fast-paced cinema with loud music. But it would strike a chord among the discerning of all ages, particularly the university-going young. It’s a cult film.

Dutt remains an inspiration for many contemporary filmmakers who combine creativity with commercialism and meet the demands of a busy, impatient and demanding audience exposed to world cinema that flocks to the multiplex theatres.

They do make good films today. But minus Dutt’s passion and sensitivities, whether they can make another ‘Kaagaz…’ is doubtful.

The writer can be reached at mahendraved07@gmail.com

Capital Smog: Why Aren’t Delhi Citizens Rising Up?

“Before you talk about ease of doing business, please do something about ease of living”, this comment on twitter aptly sums up the plight of Delhi residents who have been exposed to a serious public health crisis in the Capital with the air quality touching dangerously high levels of toxicity in recent days.

The Indian Capital and its surrounding areas are enveloped in a blanket of thick smog every year. But the situation has been getting progressively worse. This year, pollution levels hit a three-year-high, converting the Capital into a veritable gas chamber.

The smog in Delhi starts thickening around Diwali time when the lingering smoke from the firecrackers burst during the festivities, local emissions, and stubble burning in the neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana contributes to the worsening air quality. It is estimated that as many as 25,000 fires are lit by farmers in a short span of a fortnight in Delhi’s two neighbouring states who are in a rush to destroy the straw on their fields so that they can prepare for the next sowing season. This results in the emission of carbon monoxide and other such deadly and poisonous gases.

This season, the air quality indices hit a three-year high. Exposure to this polluted air left Delhi residents wheezing, choking and sneezing. After a days of battling highly toxic air, there was some respite on November 4 but the damage wrought over the past ten days could not be undone. Doctors estimated that there has been a 25 percent increase in the number of patients suffering from respiratory problems during this period. This forced the government to declare a public health emergency and shut schools so that young children were not exposed to the spiking pollution levels.

On November 4, the Arvind Kejriwal-led Delhi government introduced its odd-even scheme for vehicles, hoping that its decision will help improve the Capital’s air quality as vehicular emissions are also a major contributor to the rising pollution levels. However, there is all-round skepticism that this move will have any major impact as two-wheelers, a major source of vehicular pollution, have been exempted from this scheme. Kejriwal’s announcement is, at best, being viewed as a gimmick in the run-up to next February’s Delhi assembly elections.

The Indian media, which is normally fixated on Kashmir and Pakistan, has been forced to take note of this serious health crisis. There has been extensive coverage about the pollution menace but surprisingly, the people have not reacted as strongly as they would be expected to in view of the enormity of the problem. It is true more people are buying investing in air purifiers while many more are seen wearing protective masks but the city, by and large, appears to have accepted the high pollution high levels as an annual feature and a passing phase.

It is primarily because of this lack of urgency or anger displayed by the people that the political class has not dealt with this problem with the seriousness it deserves. The truth is that political parties will not be pushed into taking note of a public health issue like air pollution unless it can win or lose them an election.

Consequently, politicians have been making bizarre statements which only reflects their insensitivity to this pressing issue. While health minister Harshvardhan has suggested that people eat more carrots to fortify themselves against the debilitating effects of poor air quality, an Uttar Pradesh minister has advised Delhi residents to organize yagnas to clear the air.

Politicians have also been busy indulging in a blame game. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal first charged that the Punjab and Haryana governments had not taken sufficient measures to put an end to stubble burning in their states but subsequently shifted the blame to the Modi government, saying it should step in at the earliest to deal with this the problem as it involves several states.

A defensive Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh started off by accusing Kejriwal of spreading lies about Punjab being responsible for the spike in pollution levels in Delhi but, later in a letter to the Centre, admitted that stubble burning in Punjab had led to the smoggy conditions in the Capital. However, he asked the Modi government to come up with a permanent solution to this problem in consultation with the concerned state governments, stating that the Centre had not accepted his government’s proposal to provision for a bonus to farmers for stubble management.

“Is it not your government’s task, Mr. Prime Minister, to search for that permanent solution, in consultation with all the other stakeholders, including Punjab, Delhi and Haryana?” Singh asked.

While Amarinder Singh may have shifted the blame to the Modi government, it is now an accepted fact that the changing sowing and harvesting patterns in Punjab are the root cause of growing pollution levels in Delhi. Farmers have gone in for large-scale cultivation of paddy which consumes huge amounts of water, resulting in the depletion of the state’s underground water levels.

In an attempt to arrest this the alarming decline in its water table, the Punjab government passed a law in 2009 banning the sowing and transplanting of paddy from May-June to later so that the irrigation needs of the farmers are met by the monsoon rains. This means that farmers now burn the paddy stubble in late October and early November when wind speeds in Delhi are slow and the noxious gases get trapped in the atmosphere.

This is not a new revelation and has been known to the Centre and the state governments but neither has initiated any steps to deal with this issue seriously as no political party wants to be on the wrong sides of the farming community. It was after a lot of prodding that the Cabinet secretary Rajeev Gauba conferred with officials from the Punjab and Haryana governments last week but these deliberations ended by merely asking the states to monitor the situation. Meanwhile, it was left to the Supreme Court to intervene in the matter. Describing the Delhi condition worse than an “emergency”, the apex court asked the concerned state governments to put an immediate end to stubble burning and warned that those who violate this direction will be hauled up.

Bitter ‘Casteism’ In Sugar Industry

In India casteism is prevalent and practised beyond Hindu society in industry. This is particularly manifest in our sugar industry, which in terms of production is the world’s second largest after Brazil. What is more, we happen to be the biggest consumer of the sweetener on the earth, not a flattering statement on our dietary habit. Casteism in this agro-based industry, which has a major role in sustaining the rural economy of major sugarcane growing states such as Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka has developed due in no small measure to government patronage to a limited number of groups with ownership of a good number of factories in sizes well over what is considered ideal economies of scale. What also has given them a predominant status in the industry allowing them to influence government policy to their advantage is the location of their mills in areas where sugar content in cane is considerably higher than national average.

The strategy of these groups to invest in a big way in downstream distilleries making ethanol from molasses on a growing scale and power plants producing electricity by burning bagasse has enabled them to stay in the black even during sugar downturn years. Though they too failed on occasions to make payments to cane supplying farmers in their captive area during the last two seasons marked by bumper production here and globally and low prices for sugar, these groups began the 2019-20 cane crushing year with cane bills cleared. Lucky are the farmers supplying the raw material to such groups.

Sadly, no such comfort is available to millions of others growing cane for use by factories not in good financial health and, therefore, not able to honour export obligations. The system works like this: In a year of sugar surplus when under supply pressure, ex-factory price of the commodity falls much short of production cost, New Delhi will sanction an export quota for the industry which then is equitably apportioned among sugar factories. Not every industry constituent will, however, sell sugar in the world. Industry official Om Prakash Dhanuka says cane crushing mills far removed from ports like the ones in Bihar and the ones not familiar with global trade will give their export quota to groups not far away from the coast and also engaged in export.

There is a catch here: When global sugar prices rule higher than in India, the transferor (a unit not using the quota itself) will ask and get paid for using the quota by the transferee. But when opposite is the case as now, quotas will not change hands unless the transferee is compensated for the loss to be incurred in export. But a number of factories following their poor working over the past many seasons find their finances in such parlous state that there is no way they can rustle up money to compensate the transferee for the loss embedded in exports.

As is the case, farmers supplying cane to mills not able to execute the allotted quantity of export are to bear the brunt though they are not in any way responsible for export not happening. The government gives two types of subsidies to make exports feasible. (The objective is if a significant portion of the massive inventory of sugar with mills cane be sold in the world market then the industry will be spared the cost of carrying stocks to the extent of exports. Moreover, the sheer presence of a massive inventory – the current season has opened with bewilderingly high stocks of 14.57m tonnes – keeps sugar prices low compromising mill capacity to clear cane bills.)  First, mills are compensated for the cost incurred to move sugar marked for export from factory to the port.

Second, where farmers come in is the stipulation that the cane subsidy will be directly credited to the bank accounts of growers supplying the raw material only to exporting mills. This also is a relief to mills for the subsidy is to extinguish a portion of cane price dues. On August 28, the cabinet committee on economic affairs approved export subsidy of Rs10,448 a tonne to sugar mills involving an expenditure of Rs6,268 crore to facilitate export of 6m tonnes by 2020 September end. Cane growers in pockets of UP and Bihar linked to weak factories are wondering aloud why should they be penalised by way of denial of cane subsidy whatever the omission by industry constituents. For the sake of argument, it can be said that the subsidy is linked to export and therefore, the government is not to be blamed if farmers making supplies to non-performing mills are left out of the scheme.

But the economic sufferings of millions of farmers resulting from mills not being able to clear cane bills running into months should be of concern to the government. Around 190 of 525 odd factories in the country are in distress – in most cases it is acute and in others it is moderately so. As is known, sugarcane is the most important of all cash crops in the country for whose payment within two weeks of delivery to factories is guaranteed by the government. The fair and remunerative price (FRP) at Rs275 a quintal for the current season, same as last time is fixed annually by New Delhi on a review of recommendations by Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP). While some states stick to FRP, some others have state advised prices (SAP), which actually mean loading FRP with a premium.

The cash crop moniker for cane lost all its meaning when in May the industry owed over Rs21,000 crore to farmers, including Rs12,00 crore to growers in UP. Even now, all-India cane dues remain at Rs10,000 crore with UP having the largest share of Rs4,000 crore. No wonder cane growers denied of payments by mills are seeing their debts rising to unacceptable levels standing in the way of meeting their social commitments, including weddings and sradhs. This and also reports that except for a few crops like rice and wheat are sold below MSP are contributing in no small way to fall in demand for fast moving consumer goods in rural India. This financial year’s first half working of Hindustan Unilever to ITC to Godrej Consumer Products will all attest to it. The sugar industry was given an export quota of 5m tonnes for the season ended September 2019. But actual shipments to foreign destinations were 3.8m tonnes. No doubt, the inability of weak mills to participate in exports will explain the shortfall in overall despatches of sugar abroad. This year, New Delhi has given the industry a bigger 6m tonne export quota. But again for reasons of poor financial health, ailing and sick sugar mills will have no role in export. When sick mills need support in every possible way, has come the distressing news of their buffer quota being reduced for their failure to participate in export. The size of sugar buffer, the maintenance and interest cost of which is financed by the government, has been raised to 4m tonnes for the current season against 3m tonnes in 2018-19. The fact remains that more are the weak mills made to suffer, greater will be the distress for farmers.

Lynch Militia And Communal Fault Lines

The Bihar Police has withdrawn the sedition case against scores of celebrities. The case was filed on a complaint by a maverick person who has a history of filing such charges against all and sundry to hog headlines. The 49-odd celebrities were no run-of-mill names. They constitute some of the finest artists, writers and actors in the Indian kaleidoscope, including internationally acclaimed film directors Aparna Sen from Bengal, Shyam Benegal in Mumbai, Adoor Gopalakrishna in Kerala and historian Ramachandra Guha.

Their crime? These public figures had written an open letter to the prime minister of India, expressing serious concern on the repeated cases of mob-lynching, especially against minorities and Dalits, a malaise which seem to be spreading beyond control in the last five years. Even a highly respected ‘Hindu’ police officer was lynched in Bulandshahar, Uttar Pradesh, by a violent mob while he was trying to restore law and order. Besides, there have been the usual cases of women branded as child-lifters or witches followed by lynching in several places, especially in the tribal state of Jharkhand. The 49 celebrities had stressed that the ‘Jai Shri Ram’ slogan was being reduced to a “provocative war cry”. They also pointed out that there was “no democracy without dissent”.

While India is no stranger to mob violence, there is certainly a sinister pattern in the current lynching madness. These deaths, a majority of them triggered by suspicion over possessing beef, are not the outcome of kangaroo courts; nor are they following any so-called ‘communitarian’ process of localised, primitive justice. They are solely driven by hate, distrust and xenophobia, similar to hate crimes all over the world, as was meted out to Afro-Americans and Blacks in slave-driven America and in the West. Or as it happens with deranged fanatics, armed with sophisticated guns shooting down school children or immigrants in ethnic or mixed localities in advanced capitalist countries.

Only that in India, especially in the Hindi heartland, it is now well networked. It often seems a planned public spectacle whereby social media and messaging platforms are used to first spread rumours and then exhorting small groups to reach the spot. The crowds collect faster than you can imagine, the cops disappear or become inaccessible, and the district administration turns a blind eye to this macabre act of public lynching.

According to a media group study, there were 45 lynching deaths reported in the country since May 2015. While majority of such violent incidents occurred in the Hindi heartland, 18 of the deaths took place in Jharkhand alone.

This reporter travelled across the interiors of the beautiful tribal state, with its lush green forests and simple people, and discovered that this hostility or hate has been master-minded, calculated and planned to create communal polarisation in a landscape where such feelings never existed. Indeed, tribals or adivasis in Jharkhand have never nourished such hate politics, nor were they hardline supporters of extremist Hindutva, especially because anthropologically and historically they really do not belong to the caste hierarchy of the Hindu ‘varnavyavastha’, though the ritualistic attributes of Hinduism has certainly seeped into their culture as well over the years. However, they neither hate Muslims nor Dalits, nor are they very powerful in the social or political hierarchy. If anyone, their only revered hero is young Birsa Munda, the charismatic tribal leader who led a massive, violent and spontaneous rebellion against the British in late 19th century, and who was reportedly killed in prison.

That is why, it is not difficult to unravel the ‘modern’ one-dimensional pattern in the gory public spectacles that is mob-lynching, especially in Jharkhand. A study of such cases will bear testimony to this phenomenon.

In July this year, at Saraikelan in Jharkhand, a newly married and young Tabrez Ansari was tied to a tree and brutally beaten up as a public spectacle overnight even as he was made to say ‘Jai Shri Ram’ by men who were openly aligned to right-wing extremist Hindutva outfits, sporting saffron mufflers. Those who did not take part in the beatings, cheered the culprits and recorded the event on phone cameras.

Tabrez was taken to the police station after he lost consciousness and kept there, and by the time he was taken to the hospital, it was too late. Tabrez’s alleged ‘murder’ and lack of police action led to massive outrage and angry protests across India, even while it marked yet another dark chapter in the chronology of mob-lynching across India, especially in Jharkhand, the state ruled by a BJP-led government.

Often, the lynching is also an ‘economic hate crime’ derived by vested interests and social jealousy. The killers use the apparent impunity they enjoy to push their macabre agenda. It’s a dark irony, but given the circumstances, there are cases when mob-lynching really makes good business sense.

On March 18, 2016, a 32-year old cattle trader, Mazlum Ansari, and a schoolboy Imtiyaz Khan, who would assist Ansari, were found hanging in Latehar, Jharkhand. A group of men, allegedly Hindutva musclemen, had threatened Ansari to cough up money if he wanted to continue with the trade. The killers used nylon chords used to tie cattle in tying up the two victims, sending a message through the act. The case, which created headlines, was not the only such incident.

On August 19, 2017, Murtaza Ansari and Ramesh Minz were beaten to death by a mob in Godda district in a love jihad case. On September 9, 2018, Wakil Khan was lynched by a mob in Palamu.

Another case belongs to Alimuddin Ansari in Ramgarh, Jharkhand. The Tropic of Cancer crosses Ramgarh’s outskirts, surrounded by green hills and dense forests. ‘Selfies’ are popular at this spot. In its bustling market, Alimuddin was lynched by a mob on June 29, 2017. He was accused of carrying beef. Most of those charged were associated allegedly with the with the Sangh Parivar and cow vigilante groups. Of them, 11 of the accused were sentenced to life-imprisonment by a fast track court in July 2018.

The high court gave some of them bail. Surprisingly, then Union minister Jayant Sinha chose to garland the accused and gave them sweets. His picture garlanding them became viral in the media. He had openly backed them through the trial.

Maryam Khatoon, Alimuddin’s widow, had this to say: “What great act did they do to deserve being garlanded by a big minister and given sweets? How can this government be proud of them? What message are they sending to the country by doing this public act of felicitation? Do they realise how it hurts us and our entire community, and all those who believe in the Indian Constitution?” The questions have remained unanswered.

That it polarises the entire area into deep and irreconcilable communal fault lines, is a priori. That these fault lines help certain forces in the elections, too is inevitable and proved. In the final analysis, truly, it seems as if one or several masterminds are operating on a pre-determined chess board, practising their heinous moves, playing this sinister game with no remorse which unleashes nothing but violence and tragedy.

Can Resurgent BJP Reunite Cong With Splinter Groups?

The results of the Maharashtra and Haryana assembly elections have revived the demand in the Congress for the merger of its various offshoots with the grand old party.

The proposal for the coming together of the Congress parivaar was made some years ago by former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijaya Singh when the various constituents of the erstwhile Janata Dal – the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Janata Dal (U) – decided to bury their differences and fight the Bharatiya Janata Party unitedly.

Though the members of the Janata Parivaar parted company after a brief honeymoon, a large number of Congress leaders believe that parties like the Nationalist Congress Party, the Trinamool Congress, and the YSR Congress, which emerged from the parent party, should come together if they are serious about battling their common political rival – the BJP.

This suggestion has been revived in the party after the latest round of assembly polls, especially in Maharashtra. There is a growing view that the Congress and the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party need each other. The NCP won 54 seats in this election while the Congress tally stood at 44. Though the two parties had a pre-poll alliance, it is agreed that the result could have been far better if the Congress and the NCP contested as a single entity.

This issue of the merger was first mooted in the wake of the BJP’s phenomenal growth across the country which has threatened the survival of the various regional parties along with the Congress. Singh and many other others in the Congress have been of the consistent view that political parties that are on the same page ideologically should come together to fight communal forces. 

“Unlike the Congress and the BJP, there are no ideological differences between our party and those born out of the Congress. These parties emerged essentially because of personal differences. So it should not be difficult for us to work together,” remarked a senior Congress leader.

NCP chief Sharad Pawar had walked out of the Congress along with colleagues PA.Sangma and Tariq Anwar as they had strong reservations about Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origins. Mamata Banerjee parted company with the Congress because she was convinced that the party was not serious about fighting the Left parties in West Bengal. In Jaganmohan Reddy severed his ties with the Congress when he was denied the chief minister’s post in Andhra Pradesh after his father Y.S Rajasekhara Reddy was killed in an air crash.

The desperation in the Congress is understandable. The party is a pale shadow of its old self today, having been mauled in two consecutive Lok Sabha elections. In addition, it has lost a string of assembly elections over the past five years, reducing the party’s presence to a few states.

Furthermore, its continuing downward slide has plunged the Congress into a serious leadership crisis, especially after Rahul Gandhi refused to continue as party chief and Sonia Gandhi had to be persuaded to take over from him. However, her return has not put an end to the uncertainty in the party as her second stint is being viewed as a holding operation.

In addition, the Congress is sorely lacking effective and credible regional satraps as proved by the latest round of assembly polls. The Congress fared poorly in Maharashtra because it was not led by a strong state leader while it doubled its tally in Haryana  (from 15 to 31) after former chief minister and a leading Jat leader Bhupinder Singh Hooda  was given charge of the poll campaign, tantamount to an informal  projection as the party’s chief ministerial candidate.

In Maharashtra, the opposition charge was led by an aging and ailing Pawar who proved that he still has a lot of fight in him and has the capacity to challenge the BJP.  Over the years, the Congress has made several overtures to Pawar suggesting that the two parties go in for a formal merger since Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origins in no longer a point of difference between them as she is not a Prime Ministerial candidate. In fact, since then, the two parties have come together and run a coalition government in Maharashtra for three terms. Pawar was also a minister in the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government. Pawar has, on several occasions, agreed to a merger only to back out later.

Not just Pawar but Mamata Banerjee and Jaganmohan Reddy have not been receptive to the Congress proposal in the past. Having established their identity as leaders in their own right and carved out their own political space in their respective states, these leaders are obviously wary of going back to the parent party as they would get lost in the Congress ocean. Moreover, they also had serious reservations about working under Rahul Gandhi’s leadership.

But it is also true that the political landscape has undergone a vast change over the past years. It is not the Congress alone whose existence is being threatened by a rampaging BJP but Pawar’s NCP and Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress are equally vulnerable. Jaganmohan Reddy, on the other hand, has no such fears as the BJP is not a strong presence in Andhra Pradesh and the battle here is between the Telugu Desam Party and the Reddy-led YSR Congress. Reddy is currently well ensconced after he won a credible victory in the last assembly election enabling him to form a government.

On the other hand, the BJP has emerged as the main political force in Maharashtra and also made deep inroads in West Bengal where it is occupying the main opposition space today. This has obviously rattled Banerjee who faces a tough assembly election next year. She could do with a helping hand to keep the BJP at bay. The Congress is hoping that the two leaders will be more amenable to its proposal since Rahul Gandhi is no longer a factor and the BJP remains a looming threat.

Ganguly Returns As BCCI Captain

Saurav Ganguly, one of India’s legendary captains heading Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI), the world’s richest cricketing body, has raised so much hype and hope that one almost forgets that his tenure will last no more than nine months.

Know a bit about him before coming to what he would have to, or could, do.

Good, elegant left-hand batsman, he earned his place with a century in his maiden test. But his progress in the national eleven was uneven, being dropped more than once, till he steadied himself in 1996. He owed it to Greg Chappell with whom he later fell out.

Handsome, smart and rich, he has clear-cut ideas about cricket and life, says veteran sports writer V. Srivatsa. Ganguly experienced cricket administration as Bengal Cricket Association’s chief for four years. But his new role is national and international. 

Old-timers know him to be a bit lazy who avoided rigorous fitness sessions, including calisthenics. From a well-off family, he would show reluctance to carry water and drinks, an old cricketing tradition and practice, to fellow-players on the field.

Like many other cricket stars with filmy connections, he was reportedly linked to actress Naghma before settling down in life with childhood beau Donna.

An articulate man, he speaks like a cricketer. He has a knack of carrying people with him. Yet, he would have to deal with critics and former colleagues whom he had criticized in the past.

He is ambitious. When elected BCA chief, he had declared that someday, he would head the BCCI.     

Symbolisms about his election include his being the first cricketer at the top of the country’s game 65 years after Maharajah of Vizianagaram aka ‘Vizzie’. He has charisma and clean image.   But that may not suffice when he stares at a tough combination of overwhelming domestic issues and new external challenges.     

“I don’t enjoy the word ‘control’ (in the full form of BCCI). It’s about proper functioning. We have to be in the thick of things because, at the end of the day, the responsibility has been put on us to get things going in the right direction.”

However, there are nagging doubts that it could be business as usual, despite his promise of “a new beginning”, doing things “the way I feel is best for BCCI, with no compromise on credibility and corruption free.”   

Forget the game he played — and he played it well. This is his most challenging hour. He takes over from Committee of Administration (COA). Formed by the Supreme Court, it ran the Board for nearly three years.

The net result of BCCI’s controversial quarantine is that neither the apex court, nor the Committee could eliminate the deeply-entrenched vested interests. This underscores the reality, though not exclusive to India but certainly in excess, that dynasty is the defining principle be it politics, sports, cinema or business and industry.

Ganguly has BCCI’s a new constitution to abide by and a set of fresh office-bearers for a team that is composed largely of proxies of the very people whose actions had invited conflict of interest charges and of direct role in match-fixing, among other offences that had provoked the court to sack a BCCI president and appoint the COA.

Some of these worthies triumphantly entered the BCCI Headquarters minutes after the COA members had left to be photographed with Ganguly.

Feeble hope is being nursed as Ganguly had faced a similarly turbulent situation on the field when he took over the captaincy. Then the game was confronted with match-fixing scandal. But the times are decidedly more complex now.

For one, the political interests were multi-party earlier; today it’s single-party play. Bureaucrats are out, for now, but powerful trade and industry interests remain. Seeking to make it a players’ game is chasing a mirage.

This is because besides immense glamour and power that BCCI and cricket management brings, there is money.  The Board will cross the Rs 13,000 crore-mark when the figures for financial year 2018-19 are out.  

Speaking of money, what India’s Test caps got in the 1950s and 1960s for playing for five gruelling days, drawing many matches, losing some and winning a few, can’t buy even a single meal today. The flavor is single-day T20. The Board earnings are millions of times more, hence the player’s payments are also in eight digits.

There are no princes today, but those who play the game are no less in terms of riches. Endorsements add to their coffers.   The BCCI is a highly corporatized body and the state associations are also rich and thriving. For, India has the players, the infrastructure, large audiences and corporate support through advertising.

Unable to control them though, the governments back up their cricket bodies to the hilt and engage in jostling in boardrooms and tournaments to have their say. The culture is spreading. The gentlemen’s game is no longer gentlemanly.

The lure of the game and the money it brings is spreading globally. Yesterday’s minnows like Bangladesh are significant players. Conflict-ridden Afghanistan has created cricketing oases of entertainment. India is helping the Maldives with a cricket stadium and possibly, a team of its own.

Diplomacy cannot be far behind. India beware — the hitherto absent China factor has emerged. China organized and hosted triangular matches with Afghanistan and Pakistan. 

Dominating the T20 through IPL, India is working to revive the five-day Test cricket that has yielded to the quick single-day matches. To surmount the 13-hour time gap, it is likely to become a day-and-night affair.   

Veteran cricket writer Ayaz Memon notes that while Indian cricket—particularly in the five-day format—is at its zenith, spectator attendance is falling. He wants India to take the lead in making Test “something to be savoured” and made “fantastically worthwhile”. People today have many other entertainment avenues. He supports the “World Test Cricket Championship” that he says India has “ridiculously spurned,” and wants Ganguly to reverse this.

Ganguly’s focus will be domestic cricket. He has acknowledged the overwhelming importance of Virat Kohli, currently having a long victory spell, by declaring that Kohli is the “most important man in Indian cricket.” He has nixed the idea of dual captaincy.  

It is unclear if Ganguly will become BCCI’s representative at the ICC. With Shashank Manohar as the incumbent ICC chairman, egos and ideas could clash. But money makes the mare go. Ganguly wants to ensure that the BCCI gets its monetary due. “India is to get $372 million from the ICC in the five-year cycle,” he says.       

His first task would be to form a Cricket Advisory Committee. But getting credible cricketers has posed a challenge due to the stringent Conflict of Interest rules.

“It (Conflict of Interest) has to change,” Ganguly has said. This has been a major bone of contention for cricketers, both present and former. Ganguly himself fell foul of the norms when he was wearing multiple hats at one time.

Will the rules be tweaked? The writer can be reached at mahendraved07@gmail.com

Can Orissa’s Mineral Wealth Reach Bottom Of Pyramid?

The challenge for Indian bureaucrats from the level of district magistrate to chief secretary, on whose shoulders rest welfare-oriented administration of a state, is to understand well “local aspirations” and then create condition for their fulfilment. Indian administrative services, inherited largely from the British Raj but with many amendments and improvements since Independence, require young recruits to spend a good number of years in districts to have a feel of the challenges facing Bharat, distinct from urban India, before they are moved to state capitals or to the Centre.

Orissa chief secretary Asit Kumar Tripathy, who remembers his days long time in the past at Rourkela, which figures prominently in the national map as a major steel producing centre, where he was additional DM, admits that “local aspirations” for jobs and economic opportunities in several mineral producing centres in the state have remained largely unfulfilled. Tripathy makes a particular reference to Keonjhar district, which “makes a significantly large contribution to the state’s iron ore production, but is still without a steel plant.”

Such a venture, ideally to be undertaken by the private sector or in its absence by a union government owned undertaking, would create thousands of jobs directly and in the tertiary sectors requiring a variety of skills. These may not be available at Keonjhar at this point. But skills impartation to the local youth is a challenge that the state is ready to undertake.

Orissa’s endowments in the form of abundant natural resources such as iron ore, bauxite, coal and chrome ore should lead to job creation outside agriculture in mining and equally importantly in their local processing. Many see in the rise in demand for local processing of industrial raw materials instead of allowing their easy movement across the country a spurt in sub-nationalist sentiment. This may not be in conformity with the idea of India. But then the challenge for state level leaders is to take care of “local aspirations” for economic opportunities. We have not as yet found way to strike a balance between the two pulls.

The gross state domestic product (GSDP) growth in Orissa in recent years has been better than many states and also higher than the country’s GDP growth rate. Commendably, the eastern state grew at 8.4 per cent in 2018-19 compared with 7.4 per cent in the previous year. Orissa will be required to advance sustainably at a high rate and ensure that the resulting benefits percolate down to weakest sections of society. Incidentally, Orissa is next only to Bihar among the country’s bigger states to have the maximum number of people below the poverty line. According to Niti Aayog SDG India Index Baseline Report, 32.59 per cent of population of Orissa exist below the poverty line against 33.74 per cent in Bihar. 

No one will grudge the state claiming credit for a higher rate of growth of 6.6 per cent over a seven year period in per capita income to Rs75,796 when the national average was 6.1 per cent. But where are the evidences except for the information provided in the state economic survey that the average monthly household income in agriculture where close to 48 per cent of workers are engaged has continued to rise since 2012-13 that the condition of the poorest of the poor is improving at a desired rate? As has been seen in many states, including Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Orissa, people below the poverty line swell the ranks of Maoists.

Poverty alleviation will demand more and more mineral deposits are put to auction for opening of new mines. Mineral deposits are found in remote places where there is hardly any economic activity. Official data show the Orissa mining sector contributes 10.8 per cent to GSDP. A friendlier disposition to mining by way of giving clearances quickly and lowering state levies on the basis of discussions with miners will see in a few years the sector’s share in GSDP going up by quite a few notches. Boosting minerals production will only be half the battle won. At a recent brainstorming session in Delhi with steel industry leaders by the steel ministry, Tripathy regretted that even while Orissa government had been proactive in reserving land in abundance in places like Kalinganagar, Rourkela and Keonjhar, “land capacity utilisation” had remained low to the disappointment of state administration.

According to the latest survey by the Indian Bureau of Mines, in the country’s iron ore resources of 31.32bn tonnes, the share of Orissa is 7.2bn tonnes, largest among all states. Not only this, the state which accounts for around half the country’s production of iron ore, extracted 118.5m tonnes in 2018-19, up 12.8 per cent over the previous year. So Tripathy’s disappointment is understandable that so much ore is leaving the state instead of being processed within. But at the same time what is to be taken into account is his admission that at “about 30m tonne crude steel capacity, logistics concerning moving steel making ingredients from mines and ports to steel mills and then egression of finished steel products is a nightmare.” The primary reason for nightmarish state of logistics, as is underlined in the economic survey is the very poor rail connectivity in the principal mining and steel production centres.

Chief minister Naveen Patnaik says: “The state generates revenue in excess of Rs15,000 crore for the railways. Yet the entire route length in Orissa is only around 2,500 km with a density of 16, which is much less than the national average of 20. What is more, it is hugely lower compared to adjoining states like West Bengal with density of 43.4 and Jharkhand 24.3.” The minerals and metals industries suffer the most from shortages of wagon rakes during the summer when the railways are required to give “high priority” to move coal to power plants. What kind of pressure steelmaking brings to bear upon logistics becomes understandable when what Tripathy says is considered: For every tonne of steel, three tonnes of raw materials are to be moved to mills and then finished products are to be sent out to domestic and global markets.

The available logistics in the form of rail and road transport is not found good enough to support steel capacity of 30m tonnes. One then wonders how will Orissa, which is supposed to have a share of 100m tonnes in the country’s projected 300m tonne steel capacity build up by 2030-31 support that big an industry with the available infrastructure. Till now, signs are not there of rapid development of infrastructure. Tripathy sees in building of “multimodal transportation in which the state’s two major rivers Brahmani and Baitarani will pay a major role” the answer to logistical challenges emerging from the steel industry. River transportation much in use in the US and Europe to move dry bulk cargoes is cost effective and environment friendly. At the same time, Orissa’s railway network for movement of goods needs rapid beefing up.

Is It A Wake-up Call For The BJP?

The laddoo is a ubiquitous Indian confection. Made primarily of sugar, fat and flour, it is as calorific as it is celebratory. Distribution of laddoos is a common form of celebrating success or victory. Last Wednesday, a day before the assembly elections results were declared in Maharashtra, India’s second-most populous state, the state’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders were so confident of winning the elections that they ordered 5,000 laddoos that they would distribute in celebration.

That over-confidence was dashed when the results came out on Thursday. Similar smug confidence about a BJP victory in Haryana, the other state that went to the polls along with Maharashtra, was shattered as well. In both states, the incumbent governments were BJP-led (in Haryana, of the 90 seats, the BJP had won 48 in 2014; and in Maharashtra, of the 288 seats, the BJP had 122 and its ally the Shiv Sena had 63). When the results came in on Thursday, the BJP’s tally in Maharashtra shrank to 105 and the Shiv Sena’s to 56. In Haryana too, the party saw its fortunes dip and managed just 40 seats, six short of a simple majority.

In both states, there is a scramble on to garner numbers and form a government. Independent elected representatives are being wooed to strengthen numbers by both, the BJP and its opponents who have, incidentally, fared better than they did in 2014. Interestingly, most exit polls appeared to suggest that a BJP-led victory would be a no-brainer in both states. The pre-ordering of laddoos suggests supreme confidence on the part of the party as well.

The BJP’s confidence—disproportionate or otherwise—has been spurred chiefly by the party’s overwhelming victory at the national levels. Last May, Mr Narendra Modi and his government were re-elected decisively in parliamentary elections and their main Opposition party, the Congress, was decimated. Such a victory certainly boosts confidence but it can also lead to hubris.

In both states that went to the polls, voters demonstrated that they decide who to elect based on local issues and what an incumbent state government has delivered during its term. In Maharashtra and Haryana, the results indicate quite clearly that the people are not overly satisfied by their respective state government’s performance. Moreover, in both states it has also been the rise of regional parties that has eaten into the BJP’s support base. In Maharashtra, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), led by veteran politician Sharad Pawar, has scored gains in the recent elections; in Haryana, a debutant regional party, the Jannayak Janta Party has not only garnered an impressive number of seats but it now calls the shots as a possible kingmaker as the BJP and its rivals scramble to form a government.

The BJP, either on its own or together with allies, rule in 14 of India’s 29 states (16 if you assume that it will form governments in Haryana and Maharashtra). The Congress rules in just five states, while in the rest, regional parties hold sway. Ever since its surge to power at the Centre in 2014, the BJP has avowed that it will free India of Congress and spread its control over all of India. That has not happened. In southern India, the party has been largely unable to garner support in local as well as national polls; in Odisha and Bengal, regional parties have continued to rule the roost; and, as the two latest state elections show, regional parties and local issues can dominate in assembly polls. Two states will head to the polls in coming months—Jharkhand (where the BJP leads the incumbent government), and Delhi (where a feisty local party, the Aam Aadmi Party, is in power). These two elections, due in January and February, will be test cases to watch whether BJP can turn its confidence into votes at the state level. In any case, it would be wise to hold the order of laddoos. As the party’s possibly chastened leaders have realised, those sweet confections can quickly turn bitter.

That over-confidence was dashed when the results came out on Thursday. Similar smug confidence about a BJP victory in Haryana, the other state that went to the polls along with Maharashtra, was shattered as well. In both states, the incumbent governments were BJP-led (in Haryana, of the 90 seats, the BJP had won 48 in 2014; and in Maharashtra, of the 288 seats, the BJP had 142 and its ally the Shiv Sena had 75). When the results came in on Thursday, the BJP’s tally in Maharashtra shrank to 105 and the Shiv Sena’s to 56. In Haryana too, the party saw its fortunes dip and managed just 40 seats, six short of a simple majority.

In both states, there is a scramble on to garner numbers and form a government. Independent elected representatives are being wooed to strengthen numbers by both, the BJP and its opponents who have, incidentally, fared better than they did in 2014. Interestingly, most exit polls appeared to suggest that a BJP-led victory would be a no-brainer in both states. The pre-ordering of laddoos suggests supreme confidence on the part of the party as well.

The BJP’s confidence—disproportionate or otherwise—has been spurred chiefly by the party’s overwhelming victory at the national levels. Last May, Mr Narendra Modi and his government were re-elected decisively in parliamentary elections and their main Opposition party, the Congress, was decimated. Such a victory certainly boosts confidence but it can also lead to hubris.

In both states that went to the polls, voters demonstrated that they decide who to elect based on local issues and what an incumbent state government has delivered during its term. In Maharashtra and Haryana, the results indicate quite clearly that the people are not overly satisfied by their respective state government’s performance. Moreover, in both states it has also been the rise of regional parties that has eaten into the BJP’s support base. In Maharashtra, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), led by veteran politician Sharad Pawar, has scored gains in the recent elections; in Haryana, a debutant regional party, the Jannayak Janta Party has not only garnered an impressive number of seats but it now calls the shots as a possible kingmaker as the BJP and its rivals scramble to form a government.

The BJP, either on its own or together with allies, rule in 14 of India’s 29 states (16 if you assume that it will form governments in Haryana and Maharashtra). The Congress rules in just five states, while in the rest, regional parties  hold sway. Ever since its surge to power at the Centre in 2014, the BJP has avowed that it will free India of Congress and spread its control over all of India. That has not happened. In southern India, the party has been largely unable to garner support in local as well as national polls; in Odisha and Bengal, regional parties have continued to rule the roost; and, as the two latest state elections show, regional parties and local issues can dominate in assembly polls. Two states will head to the polls in coming months—Jharkhand (where the BJP leads the incumbent government), and Delhi (where a feisty local party, the Aam Aadmi Party, is in power). These two elections, due in January and February, will be test cases to watch whether BJP can turn its confidence into votes at the state level. In any case, it would be wise to hold the order of laddoos. As the party’s possibly chastened leaders have realised, those sweet confections can quickly turn bitter.

Fight Against Poverty And Political Populism

It is a sign of the present times that jubilations that followed last week’s announcement of Nobel have been the shortest. Criticism began almost immediately after Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee was declared co-winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize for Economic Sciences.

Social media critics have called him a fellow-traveller, if not an outright communist, in the best Bengal tradition. Some have questioned his middle name given by his Maharashtrian mother. Others say the “much-married” man got the Nobel for marrying a Christian. Actually, it is his criticism of the Modi Government’s economic policies. Its Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal has labeled Banerjee “Left-leaning”.    

Abhijit and wife and co-winner Esther Duflo, a French-American, are unperturbed and hope to continue working with various Indian state governments irrespective of their political orientation, including those ruled by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

They are in the company of the 1998 Nobel laureate, also an eminent economist, Amartya Sen. Conferred Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour by an earlier BJP-led government, Sen also had a prolonged ‘honeymoon’ with the Manmohan Singh Government. But political and ideological battle lines are sharp now.   

Banerjee criticized the 2016 demonetization, saying he never understood the logic behind such a drastic step, adding it was being viewed with “bewilderment” in serious academic circles.

He joined 107 well-known economists to assail the tendency “to suppress uncomfortable data” during Modi 1.0 (2014-2019) and sought restoration of access and integrity to public statistics. Their joint statement in March came after the government had held back publication of job data. The job situation has only worsened since.

Banerjee has advised the current policymakers in cryptic terms: Don’t waste time worrying about monetary policy as the economy is in a “tailspin”. Instead, find ways to revive demand to lift the sinking economy.

Post-Nobel announcement, he told a press conference called by his current employers, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at Cambridge, US, that the need of the hour was to pump money into the economy “especially in the hands of the poor”.

Banerjee’s comments come in the backdrop of concerns about a protracted slowdown, with India’s GDP growth moderating to five percent in the first quarter and the index of industrial production slipping to 1.1 percent for August. The aviation, passenger vehicles, telecom and banking sectors are facing rough times.

Gita Gopinath, Chief Economic Advisor of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), another high profile Indian-American economist, also gives similar advise to the Modi Government whose political management of the economy has forced out two governors of the Reserve Bank of India, the country’s central government.

Unsurprisingly, Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman during her US visit took pot shots at critics all-around and unmistakably, at former premier Manmohan Singh who unleashed economic reforms.  

It is politics driving economics. Banerjee and Duflo had devised the “Nyuntam Aay Yojana (NYAY), a poverty-alleviation measure that Singh’s Congress Party had promised during this year’s elections that it lost. Unsurprisingly, again, Goyal has declared that like the Congress, this scheme was also “rejected by the people of India.”

However, the Modi Government continues with many of the Congress’ welfare measures by merely tweaking them and changing labels to its own heroes. Actually, when it comes to anti-poverty measures, all parties are guilty.

To be fair to the Nobel-winning couple, the dole it recommended under NYAY was Rs 2,500 per family per month. But the Congress hiked it to Rs 6,000. Banerjee told a TV channel: “There is always a little bit of a willingness in India to announce policies because they sound good or have a political purpose.”

He told a TV channel that India’s economy is “on a shaky ground” and that the government should do pilots of policy initiatives carefully. He also suggested formulating policies that work rather than “imposing those which the government imagines will work.”

This not-easy-to-dismiss advice comes from those who have not just worked on theories, howsoever realistic and relevant, but have actually worked on development models in India and other countries. The Nobel is for “experimental approach to poverty alleviation” that includes a randomized control trial (or RCT).

Banerjee, with Duflo and Sendhil Mullainathan, founded the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) in 2003. They have  concentrated on researching how policy interventions like de-worming programmes or after-school hours tutoring for first-generation learners can help reduce poverty. Their work on a body of experimental economics work has helped developing countries in Africa, South and Southeast Asia.

Then, why is this criticism? A good part of it, against Banerjee especially, comes because he is too contemporary to be placed on a high pedestal.

An alumnus of Kolkata’s Presidency University (then a college under University of Calcutta) from where Sen had also graduated, Banerjee preferred the vibrant Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) to sedate Delhi School of Economics for his Masters. He shunned all political party-affiliated students’ bodies but was indeed, Left-leaning and did argue, agitate and go to jail. 

At 27, he earned his doctorate from Harvard University. Duflo, his wife, co-researcher and former student, is 47, the youngest and only the second woman to win a Nobel in Economics. She hopes her success will inspire many women.

With Banerjee, she wrote ‘Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty’, which won the Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award in 2011.

Michael Kremer, the third co-winner, is the Gates Professor of Developing Societies in the Department of Economics at Harvard University. A Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, the economist has similarly worked on health and agricultural interventions to fight poverty. In sum, the trio, with 400 personnel of J-PAL, has done considerable, solid, work on anti-poverty interventions.

That they’ve been awarded the highest honour in the discipline is recognition of the fact that there’s still hope to fight poverty without succumbing to the polarizing debate between Right and Left-wing populism.

This comes when welfare-ism, although essential, has been found to be wasteful, breeding sloth among the beneficiaries and corruption among those who distribute the largesse in different forms. 

Taking the larger picture from them, it is essential to know what causes poverty and how poor behave. For, although the global economy has grown faster than ever under capitalism, millions have failed to reap its benefits. Capitalism’s defence, especially in a democracy, is that it is possible to help the have-nots by making policies directed towards them. Many such policies have been made and implemented. Yet, as the Hindustan Times points out, poverty persists, and so does inequality as growth models are doubted.

There is no quick-fix. Banerjee, for one, favours higher taxes at higher incomes. The tax system should deal with inequality. But higher growth doesn’t necessarily breed inequality. No economic law indicates a tradeoff between the two.

All this may be ‘Greek’ to the political class across the world. But it needs to be understood and imbibed if they genuinely want to “serve the people.”The writer can be reached at mahendraved07@gmail.com