Elements of Hypocrisy in the Socio-Economic, Political and Educational systems?

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Muscat, Oman – Ideologies only provide a basis for getting societal efforts organized, but one still needs people with the right moral values to operate and propagate them. There have been countless individuals throughout history who have made untold sacrifices for the sake of one seductive ideology or another. For the most part, these were plebeians who followed the dicta of their elite leaders. They did so to change the status quo or in course of striving earnestly to achieve a state of utopian reality as envisioned by their espoused ideology. More often than not, however, they really had not understood or internalized the ideology itself. Nor was this an unexpected outcome. They were there to obey their orders and perish in the process if necessary. No questions would be encouraged or tolerated. Such blind faith was often fostered with nefarious bits of cognitive dissonance – the leaders saying one thing and practicing another – and demagoguery.

There were, indeed, a handful of leaders whose actions were in close conformity with the ideas and ideals that they professed. The Hindu monk, Swami Vivekananda, belonged to this rare category and achieved universal adoration during his brief and meagre life. Unfortunately, he was more the exception than the rule. Most so-called ideologues are actually hypocrites that use their spurious ideology to further their own personal or sectarian agenda instead of the greater good of humanity.

In most religions, the wealthy are encouraged to take care of the less fortunate. In the old Jewish custom, ten percent of the harvest was left for others to collect. Muslims similarly have a tradition of zakat – mandated alms-giving that forms one of the five pillars of Islam. Lamentably, talks typically get ahead of action in Hindu efforts to organize charity – distribution or appropriation of the benefits getting ultimately mixed up with the peddling of power and influence as rights are jostled. Various governance structures have been experimented with around the world and tweaked to attain some distributive justice. In this regard, as many scholars have opined, the Scandinavian model of egalitarianism is the most ideal one to follow. Unfortunately Indian leaders try to follow the Anglo-American model which is non-collaborative, competitive and exploitative and involve a command and control system.

Exploitation in any form is bad. The problem lies in defining exploitation and determining how the benefits of labor and capital are divided amongst various stakeholders. One big problem lies in determining the factor prices of labor and capital as it depends on the supply of these factors. President Obama of the United States recently pointed out that capital was better rewarded than labor in America. His argument was very vocally supported by none other than Warren Buffet, one of the richest men on earth. The surplus value should also take into account the issue of productivity gain. The idea of the contribution of technology in productivity gain has been quite a recent one, initiated by Robert Solow of MIT in his Nobel winning PhD dissertation. Prior to that, technology was explained away as a parameter in the classic microeconomic production function. But now, in economic theory, this is included as an exogenous variable along with capital and labor. It would not be wrong to say that Mr. Marx was born a bit too early to perceive the impact of technology. Apart from the pure argument of economics, there are other concerns of ethics and humanity that need to be considered in dealing with the issue of exploitation.

The income disparity is a real and pervasive economic issue that is addressed by political means. There are different political philosophies that attempt to tackle with it. Of course, there are differences of opinions about their effectiveness. Bombastic words like “Humanism,” etc. are overused in India without a proper appreciation of what it really means to instill humanistic feelings among people. Soviet style state capitalism gave rise to the development of a bureaucratic economic system replete with social imperialism. Nehruvian policy, often called socialistic (which was, in fact, far from the standard notions of socialism), engendered such state capitalism that it primarily served the interests of the rich instead of those of the common people in a chronically indirect and ineffective way.

In ordinary parlance of the Indian leftists or socialists, a capitalist is exemplified by a Tata or a Birla and more recently by the likes of Ambani and Adani. But people engaged in small enterprises are also part of the capitalist fabric. The only differences are in scale and relative political and economic power. The difference between the road side shop (run by the small businessman) and aforementioned conglomerate behemoths lies in the scale, economic- and consequent political power. When people talk about black money, they think of the havens of secret Swiss bank accounts. But anybody engaged in tax-dodging with cash payments is indeed generating black money. A teacher providing tutoring services and earning unreported cash is, in fact, part of that racket though he or she may not invoke in the minds of others the images of high living and offshore secret accounts. They are seldom perceived to be part of the problem. That is why it is so difficult to rein in the black or underground economy – its participants are more grassroots than is often thought.

Indian politicians have Mohandas Gandhi as their mentor and have learned how to disrupt the administration through widespread social disobedience. It worked for Gandhi, as he was striving toward the higher purpose of opposing and ultimately ending British colonial rule. Those were the exigencies of a vassal state yearning for its freedom from imperialist yoke. We now need a different model – a new set of idioms for public discourse that go beyond short-sighted rabble rousing.

During the late 1930s and -40s, the communists in India broke ranks with their brethren elsewhere, abandoning their reverence for Hitler, when he attacked Russia, and started supporting the “allied forces” in their fight against the Nazis. Not surprisingly, they seemed to follow the old adage that “an enemy’s enemy must be a friend.” From the 1960s to the 80s, the Indian socialists and communists protested against the United Sates, labeling them as swashbuckling capitalists and leaned toward what was then known as the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). I sharp contrast, the leftists, now in diminished numbers, do not seem to find China’s economic aggression in the subcontinent to be nearly as menacing for India as they should, or perhaps, refrain from being vocal about their concerns. The plight of small farmers in India is an old and critical issue which needs serious attention leading to a stable and permanent solution. A recent natural calamity, which caused widespread crop damage, aggravated the miseries of these farmers. Instead of finding long term solutions and formulating appropriate policies, all parties are trying to gain political mileage through rallies and protests. An incident of death (allegedly, a suicide, which is now under police investigation) of a farmer during a protest rally in Delhi, a few days ago, has once again called into question the dubious intention of the involved political party.

Our universities and management institutes have done little to educate and inspire our young minds in the appropriate forms of leadership that would be “localized” for India. Indian students continue to be taught the Anglo-American model of economics and management, as previously mentioned. Our bureaucrats and policy makers are also seeped in that tradition. But neither China nor Vietnam follow the US model that closely and have benefitted in certain ways. It is time for India to pause and reflect.

Many unscrupulous businessmen and politicians in India have taken up the “Education Business” as there is a huge demand for and potential in it. It also provides various apparently legitimate ruses to launder their piles of black money into funds that seem more legitimate and defensible. The responsible prudential and investigative agencies have been less than effective in curbing this phenomenon. Education is not comparable to a commodity which can be turned in for a refund or exchange. Think about a life ruined, a dream shattered and the misery that is brought about at all levels. The Communist Party which ruled Bengal (an eastern state in India) for three decades, banished English from the schools but they used the English word “Comrade” to refer to one another, seemingly oblivious of the irony that it presents. The silence from the educated elite was deafening. It was evocative of the Indian epic “Mahabharata,” where Bhisma maintained his silence while Draupadi was being disrobed. The Duhshashans of the political parties have long since disrobed our beautiful Draupadi who might be viewed as a metaphor for the excellent education system that once we had.

Individualism vs collectivism are often presented as simple and mutually exclusive absolutes; the polemic being centered around the superiority of one over the other. In the West, particularly in the US, individualism is favored, whereas in India the elites across the political spectrum favor state collectivism albeit to varying degrees. From the Soviet experience of the late 80’s, we have seen that pure collectivism does not work. On the other hand, the spirit of rugged individualism deified in the US has exposed serious drawbacks as well – for instance with healthcare coverage in the US especially in the context of the bitterly fought. As many economists tell us that in certain areas where the benefits are externalized, it is better for the state to be play a part.

Mousumi Roy
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Mousumi Roy has a Masters (MA - Political Science) from Calcutta University and is a visiting professor of International Relations in Muscat, Oman

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