Friday, October 24, 2014


I wrote earlier about the flattering attention I received in the brief period when I was in the finance ministry. Flattery is a flourishing industry in India. I am not fond of it; sometimes I got quite fed up, as when I wrote this column, published in Business Standard of 11 March 2003.


I have nothing against the Times of India putting female youth in front – though I do think the editor of Asian Age has a better eye. Just as a verbal battle in Parliament is better than a riot in Ahmedabad, pictures of pretty women are better than bottom pinching on buses. Some women think the two are related – that the Parliamentarian of today is the ruffian of tomorrow (more likely yesterday) and that the voyeur of today is the bottom-pincher of tomorrow. But they will be surprised at the sheer profusion of gross intimacy with the other sex – sorry, gender – that goes on in the minds of law-abiding, well-mannered males. They are not such sheep as they look; inside each there lurks a Labrador. But it is nevertheless better to have Labradors disguising themselves as sheep than undisguised ones – just as it is better to have Parliamentarians squatting on top of one another in the well carpeted well of the house than running amuck on the streets.
But even a liberal man like me is disgusted at some of the things I see in Indian newspapers. I was really put off when I saw a central BJP minister, a much admired leader who seeks to set an example to children, kissing the bearded Narendra Modi on his cheek. The objective was too high for him; in his place I would have satisfied myself with an air kiss. But he insisted on standing on tiptoe, and just managed to make it before lowering himself. And just think of the example he has set female youth. Now every Gujarati girl of a tender age who admires this leader will aspire to the same high-rise stubble. I do realize that these aging leaders have to compete with Mayawati as role models; but do they really have to rise so high?
My agitation was just beginning to subside when I got another shock – a picture of Tarun Das shaking hands with Narendra Modi. Well, I must admit the picture by itself was not obscene. There is a difference between tiptoeing to help one’s lips reach the other’s cheek and giving the other’s hand a momentary shake. It is the job of a CII functionary to be friends with all sorts of people. It was what had gone before that made the handshake off-putting.
For amongst the hundreds of people that have criticized the abominable conduct of the BJP government in Gujarat during the riots last year, there were exactly three members of CII – Anu Aga, Rahul Bajaj and Jamshyd Godrej. There was one non-member – Cyrus Banaji – who said in a CII meeting that Narendra Modi had blood on his hands, and was summarily thrown out by CII strongmen for his crime. The CII brass sidelined Anu Aga for hers. But Rahul is too big to hide; worse, he turned up at a meeting held to propitiate Gujarat’s chief minister, and reminded him of his duty to uphold law and order. Modi blew his top. But that was not enough; these uppity businessmen needed to be taught a lesson. So Modi accepted an invitation to a CII occasion – and did not turn up. Frantic phone calls: where is the Honourable Chief Minister? Oh, he is on his way. How long will he take? He will be there any minute. Grandees waited with saffron garlands in hand; garlands wilted while the Honourable Chief Minister broke his promise.
The message got through. The leaders of Gujarat CII said to the big shots of Bharatiya CII: look what you all have gone and done – you have annoyed the Honourable Chief Minister. And we have to live with him. Now which cooperative bank will give us a non-repayable loan? What will we do without the government’s road-building contracts? Who will save us when some zealous collector threatens to raze our illegally built villas? And just think what you have done to Gujarat’s pride. The more riots we have the prouder we get. We are the holy cow of the 21st century – no one dare say a word against us. You do not deserve to have such worthy members as us; we will go and join FICCI. Now that is a worthy industrial association; it knows how to treat politicians – with reverence while they are in power, with contempt when they are out of it, unless of course they look likely to come back to power. In which case some modest attention may be in order.
That was a bombshell. No industrial association could contemplate with equanimity the walk-out of its Gujarat unit: it would be like Sachin walking across and joining Pakistan in the middle of a match. Although Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have attracted a lot of industry in recent years, Gujarat still is the second most industrialized state. As competition has increased, so has the reluctance of members to bankroll industrial associations. Gujarat was not just a holy cow; it was a milch cow. So sanity prevailed, and CII sent its champion friend-maker, Tarun Das, to Narendra Modi.
Political theory says that competition forces parties to move towards the center. Actually, just the opposite happens. Every major party has its loyal following; what it needs to do to win is to attract the lunatic fringe. That is why Digvijay Singh, otherwise such a sane man, suddenly turns to the worship of the cow and the joys of drinking her urine (for those followers of his who are thinking of following his example, a statement of British Medical Association (BMA), issued when Morarji Desai’s urine drinking was in the news, is relevant: the habit is harmless. A healthy human’s urine is free of bacteria and is unlikely to have any adverse effects. Excessive drinking of it may lead to the deposition of urea in one’s bones; but for that one would have to become an addict. BMA has not, to my knowledge, done an analysis of the Indian female zebu’s urine; but as far as I know, bovine urinary tract is as sterile as human. So go on, Digvijay, go to it.)

Far be it from me to compare Gujarat’s Modi-loving industrialists to the lunatic fringe; but they are wrong to chivvy up to him. And CII is mistaken in giving in to their threat of leaving. Today, every state has to compete for industry; every industrialist has to compete for capital and markets. Industrial growth has suffered in Gujarat after the riots. Industrialists all over India should rue the damage Gujarat riots have done to India’s brand; I have come across IT entrepreneurs in the south who would love to secede from Gujarat. But the damage will be vastly greater if the Gujarat virus spreads to other parts of India. Anu, Rahul and Jamshyd see the danger, which is why they want the virus to be eliminated in Gujarat itself. So should we all.