Category Archives: India

Was the Indian PM right in grumbling about high CEO salaries?

(Written in response to a newspaper contest)…

No, I don’t think the Indian PM was right in his comments about high CEO salaries.

However, the core contention why he was not right in making those comments is not because the hardworking and highly productive CEO’s deserve their high salaries, nor is it that the company owners and stockholders are helpless in this matter and that high salaries are governed by market forces. Neither is it that reducing CEO salaries would be pointless as it would have a negligent effect on bridging the rich-poor gap. And not even that giving a free hand to the corporate world is the only way to eradicate poverty and bridging the rich-poor divide, as has been eloquently proved time and again during the last century.

True as all the above points are, the core issue is simply that the PM and the government have no right in meddling with the internal affairs of private companies. Whatever salaries the owners of a company decide to give, whether wisely or foolishly, is completely their prerogative. And the government has no business advising them. If anything, the PM should have been exhorting the inefficient political babus and government administrators to learn from the effective and efficient resource management of private sector companies.

Interestingly, had the judiciary given a similar unsolicited advice to the government in the management of its internal affairs, our present government, in all likelihood, would have accused the judiciary of judicial overreach. And yet, our Honourable PM is guilty of the same violation; in this particular context, of governmental overreach.

The real, fundamental issue at the bottom of this controversy is whether we Indians, as citizens and company owners, have an absolute right to our life and property, have the moral right to exist for our own sake, or whether some of our rights need to be curtailed or sacrificed for the larger ‘good’ of society or in this case, for bridging the rich-poor divide.

Fundamental as this premise is to the unfolding drama, it will unfortunately have little bearing on its outcome, simply because we as a society have long ago, explicitly, implicitly or by default, accepted altruism as a sound moral principle. Year after year, we have seen the government use its coercive powers on some segments of individuals to achieve the larger good, whether in the form of the high taxation of the rich and corporate sectors to be channelised to the poorer sections, or the nationalization of many privately owned companies in the past.

What is then more relevant in our present context, more as an expedient than a moral principle, is to point out that the alleged goal of bridging the rich-poor gap cannot be achieved by governmental interference in business.

During the last century, in whichever country it was attempted, socialism and governmental control of the economy in practice only achieved in furthering the rich-poor gap, making it harder for the poor prospective entrepreneurs and workers with no connections to break in and rise, while strengthening the stranglehold of the privileged and rich class. Witness the dismal conditions of the erstwhile USSR’s working class while the privileged political class with connections lived in luxury. Or similar conditions in our own country, during the pre-liberalised license Raj years.

It is only in post-liberalised India, that workers now have a real chance to rise; for the first time, there is optimism in the air, salaries of the workers have been rising, merit and not pull is now counted. In fact, for the first time in Indian history, we see the chance of bridging the vast rich-poor gap, where the city workers could afford decent housing, cars and other luxuries as in other capitalistic countries.

What then is surprising and at the same time, psychologically revealing, is that given the rosier conditions of our working class, which has been brought about by deregulations and less governmental interference in business, our champions of the workers (and the poor) are not rejoicing. They should have been taking heed of what’s taking place in our cities and should have applied the same principles to our villages, by liberalizing and reforming the agrarian sector, by setting the farmers free of governmental regulation.

However, in the face of all these developments, when our Honourable PM still clings to his socialistic prescriptions, one wonders whether the socialists from whom he mistakenly takes inspiration, have really been pro-poor and not been merely anti-rich. One wonders whether their secret hope of achieving egalitarianism is not a sinister wish to see everyone reduced to the least denominator (capitalists, CEO’s and workers alike) which most erstwhile communist countries almost succeeded in doing, rather than raising the poor to the level of the rich and our present CEO’s.

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Double standards in Indian media

The Vadodra paintings incident at MS University in Gujarat glaringly brings into focus the double standards that our intellectuals and the media use in dealing with issues relating with Hindus versus issues relating to Muslims. To illustrate the point, its first worth noting that our no-holds barred media organisations only discussed the issue in abstract terms and did not reveal the content of the contentious paintings — they, in fact, deliberately censored the concrete details of the paintings. One wonders that if they were so sure of their stand, then why were they afraid to show the details. Their reasons become clear on closer examination.

Arun Jaitley in the Indian Express described the two contentious paintings in the following words, ” My curiosity led me to discover that the first painting was that of a ‘cross’ on which Jesus Christ stood crucified. Below the said ‘cross’ was an English-style WC. The painting displayed the sexual organs on the art piece, with the liquid drip from them going into the WC. The second painting was a portrait, ostensibly of the Hindu goddess ‘Durga’, in the nude with a full grown human male emerg ing out of her sexual organs. The young artist had obviously used the artistic freedom to paint religious figures in a sexually explicit manner.”

The young artist had also been clever enough to only paint Jesus Christ and the Hindu Goddess Durga in such a manner, and not depict Prophet Mohammed in a similar sexually explicit manner. Had he done that, then we all know very well what our champions of artistic freedom and the media organisations would be saying and doing: They would have scooted off from issue as fast as their heels could carry them, or would have reversed their stand, just as they did during the Danish cartoon controversy. During that controversy, most of the writers blamed the Danish cartoonist for needlessly insulting the Prophet of Islam and provoking the wrath of muslim people, and sympathised with the hurt feelings of the muslim people. There were just a few who mentioned freedom of expression but failed to take a principled stand, and were again apologetic to the sensititivies of the muslims. But in the present Vadodra case, no sympathies for the hurt sentiments of the Hindus or for the Christians.

What’s more noteworthy is that a very similar incident took place in Bhopal just days after the Vadodra incident, where muslims ransacked and damaged an exhibition/display which they claimed portrayed muslims in a bad light. Besides a brief mention of it on one of the news channels, our media behaved as though the incident never happened, and our champions of artistic freedoms remained deaf and dumb to that incident. There were no discussions, criticisms, talk shows, demonstrations on that. But that was to be expected from our biased intellectuals.

Arun Jaitley in Indian Express (19/5/2007):

Anxious to study and analyse the real issues in this controversy, I made a conscious effort to investigate as to what the two impugned paintings were.

My curiosity was further strengthened by the fact that media organisations that championed freedom of artistic expression, projected the issue in the abstract, without informing viewers and readers what the exact expression of artistic freedom in this case was.

My conscious effort led me to discover that the protest was with regard to two paintings whose contents were being censored by the responsible section of the media. I am unsure whether this was deliberate or whether it was an act of responsible journalism to prevent people from viewing an obnoxious piece of art.”Anxious to study and analyse the real issues in this controversy, I made a conscious effort to investigate as to what the two impugned paintings were.

My curiosity was further strengthened by the fact that media organisations that championed freedom of artistic expression, projected the issue in the abstract, without informing viewers and readers what the exact expression of artistic freedom in this case was.

My conscious effort led me to discover that the protest was with regard to two paintings whose contents were being censored by the responsible section of the media. I am unsure whether this was deliberate or whether it was an act of responsible journalism to prevent people from viewing an obnoxious piece of art.

My curiosity led me to discover that the first painting was that of a ‘cross’ on which Jesus Christ stood crucified. Below the said ‘cross’ was an English-style WC. The painting displayed the sexual organs on the art piece, with the liquid drip from them going into the WC. The second painting was a portrait, ostensibly of the Hindu goddess ‘Durga’, in the nude with a full grown human male emerg ing out of her sexual organs. The young artist had obviously used the artistic freedom to paint religious figures in a sexually explicit manner.”

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The Mecca Mosque blast & the response

The Mecca Mosque blast in Hyderabad is highly regrettable and strict punishment should be meted out to the guilty. However, when I saw the reactions of rioting by thousands after the Mecca blast in Hyderabad, and also stone-pelting by mobs in Mumbai (kurla) and the way the way the media portrayed the incident (Star News for instance), it not only brought out the difference of a pre-dominant Muslim mindset compared to the Hindu mindset, but also brought out the glaring media bias and double standards in coverage.

For instance, after the Varanasi temple and MumbaDevi Blasts (in Mumbai), even after loss of lives, there was no rioting by the Hindu people, even though their worship places were targeted. And I can say pretty confidently that had there been rioting, then the media would have endlessly picked on the RSS and BJP leaders for fuelling sentiments, and politicizing the issue, while columnists would have criticized the mobs and questioned what gave them the right to target innocent people who have nothing to do with the incident. The columnists would also be telling us that Islam and the muslims have nothing to do with this, and how one must maintain peace and harmony.

Compare this with the present blast. There is every real possibility of this conflagaring into a major riot throughout India, and everyone knows the reason but dares not say it— it is because of the pre-dominant muslim mindset, which considers violence against innocent as a legitimate means of settling scores. We saw this happen after some miscreants demolished the Babri Masjid, and the muslim mob started killing innocent Hindus who had nothing to do with it in Mumbai, it happened after the municipality partly demolished a dargha in Vadodra for road widening and the muslim mob started rioting and hitting out at innocent Hindus, who had nothing to do with it, and in the process killing two Hindus, and it is happening presently.

In all these situations, the media’s bias is very loud and clear: Instead of criticizing muslim religious leaders for fuelling the riots, or for not doing anything to placate the sentiments of the people, just the way the media would have criticized the RSS and BJP leaders had the hindus resorted to rioting, the media is preoccupied with its favourite whipping boy, the police. Instead of blaming the agressors of violence and their supporters after the blasts ( however regrettable the blast is), Star News among other channels, has been just focusing on the execessive use of force by the police to quell the violence. Clearly a biased approach based on a double standard. What’s more, the media in this sensitive times, should have been more judicious and exercised discretion and not have been airing a one-sided view which could potentially provoke further the sentiments of an already inflamed and physically active section of the society.

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