The Revolution India Needs (Part 5)

Vishnu’s Narasimha Avatar

“Every revolution was first a thought in one man’s mind.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

The story of Vishnu’s Narasimha Avatar is perhaps well-known, but is worth recapping. Hiranyakashipu is an Asura (demon) king. His elder brother is killed by Vishnu in one of his previous avatars. This angers Hiranyakashipu who undertakes penance and gets a boon from Brahma that made him almost invincible – he could not be killed during the day or night, inside or outside, neither on earth nor in the sky, by any weapon, and by man or animal. True to the Asura operating procedure, he goes on a rampage. Among those affected is Prahlad, his own son, who is a devotee of Vishnu – much to Hiranyakashipu’s frustrations. Multiple attempts are made to kill Prahlad, but he survives them all.

TemplePurohit’s website takes up the story: “[Hiranyakashipu] dragged Prahlad and asked him if his Lord Vishnu was present in the room with them. Prahlad told him that the Lord was everywhere, and in frustration Hiranyakashipu mocked Prahlad and asked him if his Lord was present in a pillar next to them. Prahlad told him that he was. In rage, Hiranyakashipu kicked the pillar, and out came a ferocious being who was half man and half lion.”

Vishnu then comes to rescue the world in the Narasimha Avatar to kill Hiranyakashipu – in twilight (neither day nor night), on the threshold of a courtyard (neither inside nor outside), with his own hands (no weapons used), in his lap (neither earth nor sky), and in the form of a creature who is half-man and half-lion (neither man nor animal).

What fascinated me as a young kid was the creativity demonstrated by Vishnu to get around the boon given by Brahma to Hiranyakashipu. It reinforced the idea that no one is invincible. I have used the Narasimha avatar metaphor many times in business to demonstrate the point that out-of-the-box thinking can be used to defeat a strong incumbent, however unlikely that may seem. (Of course, Vishnu’s Narasimha was no ordinary startup!)

The other key theme that resonated with me was that good triumphs over evil. What Dashavatar demonstrated was that whenever things seemed lost, Vishnu would come to the rescue of the world.

Similar thoughts came into my mind in the past few months as I started thinking about India’s future. 1.3 billion people living in one of the world’s oldest, and yet cursed to live without freedom for the past millennium. It started with the invaders from Afghanistan, followed by the rule of the Mughals and then the British. We thought we had become free in 1947, but then our very own politicians enslaved us. This has been the hardest – because we all think we are free, little realising that all we have is the illusion of freedom. Our political parties and their leaders are the modern day Asuras.

The question that I started thinking: what would Vishnu do seeing the plight of his people –  denied freedom by their own leaders, distanced from prosperity, and cornered by an expansionist neighbour? If ever there was a time for Vishnu’s next avatar, this was it.

Tomorrow: Part 6

The Revolution India Needs (Part 4)

Dasha Avatar

“All revolutions are impossible until they happen. Then they become inevitable.” – Albie Sachs

I grew up with Amar Chitra Katha (ACK) comics – like many in the 1970s and 1980s. I remember going out with my parents and buying every new comic when it was released. They brought history and mythology to life. Until the TV serials came along, the Gods were as depicted in the ACK comics.

One of my favourite comics was Dasha Avatar. It came out in the late 1970s. It brought to life the ten avatars of Vishnu. From the description in the comic:

The Avatar concept is the very cornerstone of Hindu theology. According to it, the Supreme Power manifests itself in animal or human forms on earth, with the divine mission of cleansing it of the periodically increasing evil. The Avatar concept is closely related to the measurement of time in Hindu theology which has its basis on one working day of Brahma. According to the Bhagwat Purana, Brahma, the creator, is the causal effect of the predetermined periodic creation and dissolution of the universe. Each creation or Kalpa is equal to one day and each dissolution or Pralaya is equal to one night in the life of Brahma. A Kalpa and a Pralaya last for 4,320 million human years each. Every Kalpa has 1000 cycles of 4 Yugas (ages). Each cycle of 4 Yugas is completed in 4,320,000 human years. The Yugas are called Satya, Treta, Dwapara and Kali. The Avatars which are considered most significant are ten in number and they form the ‘Dasha Avatar’. These ten avatars start with the form of a lowly fish and work up to the noble man, cast in the image of God. The fanciful find a parallel to Darwin’s theory of evolution in the progression of these Avatars. The Avatars enable the common folk to speak of or listen to stories of divine doings which is a simple way of proceeding towards Godhead; particularly in our Kali Yuga with its ‘sick hurry and divided aims’.

In each case, Vishnu takes on different forms to fight against evil and restore order. Here is a brief from Wikipedia:

The Dashavatara refers to the ten primary (i.e. full or complete) incarnations (avatars) of Vishnu, the Hindu god of preservation which has Rigvedic origins. Vishnu is said to descend in the form of an avatar to restore cosmic order. The word Dashavatara derives from daśa, meaning ‘ten’, and avatar (avatāra), roughly equivalent to ‘incarnation’…Most draw from the following set of figures, in this order: Matsya; Kurma; Varaha; Narasimha; Vamana; Parashurama; Rama; Krishna or Balarama; Buddha or Krishna; and Kalki…All avatars have appeared except Kalki, who will appear at the end of the Kali Yuga. The order of the ancient concept of Dashavataras has been interpreted to be reflective of modern Darwinian evolution.

I read Dasha Avatar many times. Each avatar was covered in a few pages and showed Vishnu in different forms creatively taking on wrongdoers and winning. Among all the avatars, the one I was most fascinated by was Vishnu’s Narasimha Avatar.

Tomorrow: Part 5

The Revolution India Needs (Part 3)

Divide and Rule

“The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty.” ― Thomas Jefferson

India’s pre-1947 poverty was crafted by the British and their invading predecessors. India’s post-1947 poverty was handcrafted by the composers of the 1950 Constitution. A Constituent Assembly of elitist Leftists led by their patron saint Jawaharlal Nehru concentrated powers in a Central government – exactly as the 1935 Government of India Act passed by the UK Parliament did. 242 of 395 Articles in the 1950 Constitution were copied verbatim from the 1935 Act which was designed to subjugate the people and deny them freedom. The fate of Indians – and those unborn – was decided in those crucial years between 1947 and 1950.

The continuing Colonial Constitution (with its 100+ amendments which chipped away the few remaining  freedoms that Indians enjoyed) has concentrated ever-increasing power in the hands of a few at the top of government – just the way the British ruled and controlled Indians. If we did not have freedom before 1947, it is impossible to argue that we have freedom now – because the rules have not changed.

With a government that had supreme powers, it was little surprise that with the passage of time the merely incompetent leaders gave way to the totally corrupt. This is the way power works, as Lord Acton put it so well, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” With absolute power concentrated in the political leaders, it created the incentives for the rise of those willing to do anything to get to the top – because of the huge treasure they could capture. Politics was not about serving the people but serving oneself – even if that meant imposing costs on others. The political party system became the route to extracting wealth from the nation. And thus, India morphed from a democracy to a kakistocracy — a government of the least qualified and the most corrupt.

To stay in power in a first-past-the-post electoral system with universal suffrage, it became quickly obvious that dividing voters to target the ‘selectorate’ was the way to acquire and retain power. Voting blocs were identified and pandered to. Muslims and the poor-fed-on-freebies were the largest votebanks, until the BJP decided that the Hindu vote was bigger than all of them. It perfected the art of winning elections with the triad of pro-Hindu, pro-poor and pro-India (read: anti-Pakistan) slogans. For every leader, the key was winning. And after winning, doing whatever it took to stay in power. Which meant more of the same tricks. Candidates had no party allegiance since all parties were the same – what mattered was being on the winning side because only then could one get a share of the spoils.

With every election, the size of the government and its powers grew. Business people realised that to succeed they had to befriend the politicians. Licences and permissions were in the hands of the political class (aided by the cunning bureaucrats). Indian politics became the newest industry – with the greatest riches at stake. Cronyism grew with every election as politicians depended on their own accumulated war chest and those from greedy, favour-seeking business people – this was a perfect alliance.

The poor were silenced with handouts and freebies and kept poor because they were the golden goose – the single largest chunk of voters without any skin in the game who could be easily bribed. The thin middle class was kept busy slogging it out so they could eke out just enough to keep their aspirations going. They had no way and no time to self-organise and demand a better future. The elite didn’t care – they created their private islands of opulence. Indians lost their freedom and their future.

If we are to reclaim our nation from the imposters who rule over us, we will need to unite against our real enemies – the politicians and their political parties. The Dasha Avatar can inspire us.

Tomorrow: Part 4

The Revolution India Needs (Part 2)

Transformation not Tweaks

Revolution only needs good dreamers who remember their dreams.” – Tennessee Williams

I will argue that India needs a revolution because incremental change in our political and economic system is not possible. The existing rot is too deep in our politics, and the resulting policies that emphasise wealth redistribution over wealth creation cannot be tweaked for better outcomes. The economic policies India needs will not come without a new political leadership, which in turn requires a radical change in the political system.

What is a revolution? From Wikipedia: “In political science, a revolution is a fundamental and relatively sudden change in political power and political organization which occurs when the population revolts against the government, typically due to perceived oppression (political, social, economic) or political incompetence.”

Oppression and political incompetence are not new in India. The people lived through it in voluntary servitude under the British, and continued it after 1947 under leaders they voted for. The particular people in power changed, the oppression and incompetence continued. India should have ousted the British with a Revolution, but we chose a peaceful transition of power that kept the rules the same – and therefore the outcomes did not change.

We can still continue with the same. Those who can create their cocoons will do so, while some others will escape to the West. The others will stay and continue to suffer. The pandemic and its aftermath will heighten the pain. Even though Indians are known for their immense tolerance of pain (what else explains our willingness to live through British Raj 1.0 and then British Raj 2.0 inflicted by our own politicians), the coming years will test even the most patient. The pandemic may have been the immediate cause, but the lasting damage is being inflicted by our politicians and bureaucrats. Will we sleep through this or will we finally wake up? If we do awaken from our slumber, we will see the need for a revolution.

A revolution might sound disruptive and violent. It is not. Just as technology is helping us buy, learn, connect and communicate, it can help us change our nation. For this a few of us need to first understand that the change is really needed. This is the job of political entrepreneurs. They have to change minds. Only then will the votes change.

The pandemic has shown us how a virus can spread itself from person to person. We need to apply similar thinking about the rules of contagion to spread ideas from person to person. We need to get past the belief that India was, is and will be great. We were not, are not and will not be great – unless we the people actively work to bring about the needed political and economic transformations. This is the revolution India needs – and what some of us have to deliver.

Tomorrow: Part 3

The Revolution India Needs (Part 1)

Freedom that never was

“The great revolution in the history of man, past, present and future, is the revolution of those determined to be free.” – John F. Kennedy

73 years ago, the British transferred power to their Indian surrogates who have faithfully continued the subjugation of the Indian people. Except for two Prime Ministers (Narasimha Rao and Atal Behari Vajpayee), everyone else has eroded the civic, political and economic freedoms of the people. This has ensured that even after celebrating all these Independence Days with grandiose speeches, true freedom and prosperity remain a distant dream for most Indians.

For Indian political leaders, power and its perpetuation has become the focus. Once at the apex position, they think of themselves as the tenth incarnation of Vishnu – the Kalki Avatar born to rid the world of its evils. Who the modern-day Asuras are depends on the leader – the Opposition, the rich, the business people, the non-Hindus, the Hindus, Pakistan, China, and so on. The real evils — the political party system that reduces everyone else to a rubber stamp and the mai-baap sarkar that denies freedom and impedes wealth creation – live on, intact and eternal.

India has been singularly unlucky to get leaders who lacked the wisdom to understand that the foundations of prosperity are the classical liberal ideas of individual and economic freedom, minimum government, rule of law, property rights and  free trade. With wise leadership, Indians would have become one of the most prosperous people in the world with the added advantage of a young population. But destiny has given us leaders who have been the evil Hiranyakashipu of our time – each playing a role in the destruction of the institutions that create freedom and prosperity.

If We, the People, are to change India’s destiny in our lifetime to give our children the shot at the prosperity many of us were denied, we have to come together for a single mission – a transformation that gives true freedom to every Indian to pursue life in the way they choose without the overhang of the government. This may seem counterintuitive at first, but a careful study of the causes of prosperity in the Western world will show otherwise. This is the revolution India needs.

What India needs is a people united to create a bottom-up movement to dismantle the corrupt political party system and end the mai-baap Sarkar that pervades our lives. Only then will a new India rise — an  India not steeped in poverty but reaching out for riches, an India not divided by ancestral surnames but united in our individual diversity, an India not searching through history books for its lost glory but powering its way through entrepreneurship to future prosperity.

Tomorrow: Part 2

Dhan Vapasi: The Treatment India needs to Recover from the Crisis (Part 5)

Making it Happen Now

I had set up a team of experts in 2018 to draft the Dhan Vapasi Bill, which was sent to every Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha MP. The Bill laid out the roadmap to making Dhan Vapasi happen. It envisioned establishing four Corporations. Surplus public assets would be identified by the Identification Corporation. The Identification Corporation would ensure clear titles to the assets. The Restructuring Corporation would restructure the assets to optimise the saleable value. The Auctioning Corporation would conduct the auction of the assets and the sale proceeds would be deposited in the Dhan Vapasi Fund. The Fund Management Corporation would manage the Dhan Vapasi Fund and return the wealth accumulated in the Fund to the citizens of India using its beneficiary database.

This is the right time to revisit the Dhan Vapasi Bill. The pandemic has created an economic crisis that calls for bold actions. A 10% GDP contraction will hit poorest the hardest. Implementing bad policies could set India back by many years and push many Indians back into the poverty trap that they had just escaped from.

Returning people’s wealth to them would also reduce the size of the government, reduce the waste and inefficiency associated with the hundreds of schemes and subsidies that are supposed to help the needy but instead are a source of corruption. It will increase economic and civic freedoms, which will catalyse economic growth and job creation.

This return of public wealth must be universal because this surplus belongs to all, rich and poor alike. It is the moral thing to do and economic efficiency considerations support the idea. The non-discriminatory return of wealth also prevents vote-bank politics that plagues India’s democracy.

If we have to break free from the politics of poverty and build a path to prosperity, we need to dismantle the anti-prosperity machine engineered by our political class. The starting point is to recognise the right of every family to have an equal ownership of the public wealth of India, and receiving income from that in terms of unconditional annual transfers. Taking away public wealth from government control and returning it to us, the people, is a necessary and important step towards comprehensive freedom that Indians must have in a free India.

Dhan Vapasi is the universal prosperity revolution that can fulfill the Constitution’s promise – to secure for all citizens freedom, equality and prosperity. Dhan Vapasi is the real freedom to live life on our own terms – without the government as our master, with fellow Indians as partners in progress. It is about fairness and justice. It is the right of every Indian.

Here is a compilation of all the relevant additional information about Dhan Vapasi.

Dhan Vapasi: The Treatment India needs to Recover from the Crisis (Part 4)

The Arguments

There are two powerful arguments that support Dhan Vapasi: the economic and the moral.

The economic argument is that of efficiency. For something to be efficient, it has to be free of waste. Not employing assets in their best use results in avoidable waste. Bringing all the assets — public and private — into productive use increases efficiency, and therefore increases overall produce. Countries that are more efficient are wealthier.

Dhan Vapasi brings all the available public resources such as land into production. It also provides the proper incentives for people to put in the effort to use those most efficiently because they are the owners. Owners care more than managers. When the public wealth is under the direct control of the people, they enjoy the gains or suffer the losses.

The economic argument stresses efficiency and gain. But even if you were to disregard that, even if people were not very good at economic decisions, even then it would be morally right to give people direct control over what belongs to them. The moral argument hinges on the immorality of theft. Depriving someone of their property is theft, even if the law says that it is okay to do so, even if the taking is done by the government. Theft and robbery is immoral and not justified even if the robber is better than the owner in its efficient use.

Not all legal acts are moral, and not all immoral acts are illegal. In our case, it is legal for the government to take our public wealth but it is not moral. It is still theft.

Finally, let’s remember that India is a democratic republic. The Indian government must not be allowed to treat the citizens as incompetent children that need to be forced and managed. Doing so is immoral and unprincipled.

Tomorrow: Part 5

Dhan Vapasi: The Treatment India needs to Recover from the Crisis (Part 3)

Government Control

How did the control of the vast public wealth of Indian end up with the government?

One of the things that defines a free country is the notion that the citizens are free and can own their property. Conversely, a country is not free if the citizens are subjects of some agency and don’t have full, unencumbered ownership of their property. By that measure, prior to 1947, India was clearly not free. Indians were subjects of the British crown, and the British government made the rules that governed India.

Post 1947, Indians should have become free but they did not. British-era rules continued to be enforced by succeeding governments, and the ruler-subject relationship between the government and the people continued. Instead of the people being the sovereign and the government their agent, the government continued to be the master and the people its subjects. The racial makeup of those in government changed but its imperial role did not. Two examples will highlight this.

Lutyens’ Delhi has hundreds of bungalows that house India’s politicians and bureaucrats. Built by the British, they once housed the rulers of colonial India. With the end of the British Raj, the skin colour of the rulers changed – but not their homes. Those who took over control of the government of independent India — politicians and bureaucrats — moved into those lavish quarters. Each bungalow, spread over acres, is worth a few hundred crores. It is impossible to justify that. How can those who were supposed to serve the public live like they were imperial rulers of a subjugated people, and extremely poor people at that?

A conservative estimate of the land value of Lutyens’ Delhi comes to around Rs 5 lakh crores. The aftermath of the pandemic has caused great pain to tens of crores of Indians. The proceeds of the sale of Lutyens’ Delhi rightfully belong to all Indians equally, rich and poor.

Each of the 25 crore Indian families could receive Rs 20,000 in the next few months. It is not a large amount but it will help the vulnerable families enormously to get back on their feet. With money in hand, their demand for goods and services will pull industry to increase production, which in turn will generate jobs. While helping the poor, it will give a much-needed boost to the economy without damaging side-effects.

(On a side note: I had written earlier about this idea of liquidating Lutyens’s Delhi. We ordinary citizens have to pay rent or buy our own houses. Why should the netas and babus get it for free? Like the rest of us, they should get a salary, and rent or buy whatever housing within their budget. This can be accomplished within a month. Remember, demonetisation was done overnight. The Prime Minister should give them all a month’s notice and demonstrate to the world that he means to correct the wrongs of the British Raj and that India is not going to tolerate it anymore.)

As another example of imperial rule, consider the existence of cantonments in India. The British Raj created military cantonments in more than 60 Indian cities and towns to quell rebellions from the “natives.” As a colonial power, it was rational for the British to do so. But military cantonments in the middle of a city are not justified in a free India — unless post-1947 governments consider themselves to be the new rulers.

Consider Navy Nagar at the southern tip of Mumbai. Created in 1796 (that’s not a typo — it’s 225 years old), it occupies 200 hectares of prime land. The Delhi cantonment takes up 4,000 hectares. It’s the same story in major cities such as Pune, Bengaluru and Ahmedabad. What’s their function? It cannot be protection from foreign invasion. Its prime function appears to be to provide private clubs, golf courses, fine accommodation, etc, to military and politically connected elites. In effect, public property has been usurped by the ruling nobility for their private use. This must be stopped.

These areas can be put to alternative uses to benefit the people — for housing and offices, schools and colleges, hospitals and shops, parks and recreation. Bringing these assets into use will create commercial value, which can then be returned to the people. There is a broader principle that goes beyond the use of public lands for the benefit of the public. It’s this: all public assets belong to the citizens, and they must derive tangible, direct and present benefits from them.

Tomorrow: Part 4

Dhan Vapasi: The Treatment India needs to Recover from the Crisis (Part 2)

Public Wealth

The people of India collectively own wealth that is not privately owned. That is called “public wealth”, which is in the form of public lands, the minerals, the improvements on the land, water resources, public sector corporations, financial institutions like banks and insurance companies, and resources such as the radio spectrum. These are public assets or wealth.

We all are shareholders in this wealth. It’s our wealth, in India, all around us. It’s not wealth — black or white — in foreign banks, which somehow needs to be brought back to India. The Indian government controls this wealth – much of which is lying unused, misused and abused. If this wealth is monetised and returned to the people, it can truly transform their lives and India’s future.

India’s public wealth is estimated at $20 trillion dollars. That would approximately come to Rs 1,50,00,00,00,00,00,000 – more than Rs 50 lakh for every one of India’s 25 crore families. Put in simple terms: India is rich, yet Indians have been kept poor. The median Indian family earns just over ₹ 1 lakh a year – less than ₹ 10,000 per month for a family of five. They save very little, if it all. This is what needs to change. This is why people need their wealth back.

What is needed is for the government to monetise this public wealth and return it to the people in manageable chunks every year – Rs 1,00,000 every year to every family. This would more than double the annual income for over half the Indian families.

Getting this wealth back means the people can choose how to spend it for their families. That spending, in turn, becomes income for sellers. When they spend on food, it is income for farmers. When they spend on other goods and services, it helps boost employment and creates jobs. The wealth return is universal and not means tested. This eliminates political and bureaucratic discretion, and thus reduces corruption.

Tomorrow: Part 3

Dhan Vapasi: The Treatment India needs to Recover from the Crisis (Part 1)

The Need

There is no denying the gravity of the state of the economy. With a 24% year-on-year contraction in GDP during the April-June quarter, analysts are now predicting a fall of 10% or more for the financial year. The Central and state governments are engaged in a confrontation about the shortfall in GST compensation. The Central government is caught in a bind – to pump in more money and risk a ratings downgrade as the deficit rises, or wait and watch and risk prolonging the recession. There is also a growing clamour for augmenting the fiscal stimulus and putting money in the hands of the people.

Simultaneously, coronavirus cases continue to grow, and local lockdowns slow the recovery as the virus lives amongst us. The availability of a vaccine that will provide long lasting immunity is still unclear though there are reasons to be optimistic. Against a backdrop of fear, uncertainty and doubt, people are cautious with their spending. Many small and medium enterprises face pain due to demand slump.

So, what can the government do? A set of actions is needed to achieve the following:

  • Put money in the hands of people without enlarging the fiscal deficit
  • Get India to sustained 10% GDP growth rate
  • Not entail any government borrowing which will impact the future growth
  • Attract global investors and their trillions of dollars
  • Not cause inflation
  • Be politically popular and financially wise
  • Solve the credit constraint problem that many Indians face
  • Give families the freedom to make their own choices
  • Not a violation of the fundamental rights of the people

Sounds like Mission Impossible?! And yet, there is a solution which can meet all the above requirements – Dhan Vapasi. It combines two ideas – the monetisation of surplus public assets combined with universal wealth return. India’s public wealth of $20 trillion which is locked up in land, PSUs and minerals needs to be returned to the rightful owners – the people of India, who can then decide what to do with it. Dhan Vapasi is the one idea that can work as the economic treatment to help Indians recover.

The building blocks of Dhan Vapasi are these:

  • We, the people of India, as the rightful owners of India’s public wealth, have a claim to the income from our public wealth
  • Public wealth is all that is not privately owned. It consists of public lands, minerals, public sector corporations, government-owned financial institutions like banks and insurance companies, and resources such as the electromagnetic spectrum
  • The surplus public wealth of India is estimated at Rs 50 lakhs per family
  • Dhan Vapasi is the proposition that every family must receive a dividend income of Rs 1 lakh every year from the public wealth they own
  • The government must be prohibited from taking any portion of that public wealth for its own use

The claim is that:

  • Dhan Vapasi will eliminate extreme poverty
  • Dhan Vapasi will create millions of additional jobs every year
  • Dhan Vapasi will eliminate the need for the dozens of public assistance schemes that are riddled with corruption
  • Dhan Vapasi will reduce public corruption —by stopping leakage of funds meant for public assistance

Tomorrow: Part 2