Posted on 26-01-2014
Filed Under (POLITICS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

British colonizers clandestinely implanted the sanctity of the ten commandments into the value system of India’s elite classes. These, as I wrote last week, taught us not to challenge, revolt or take responsibility, be a happy subordinate, a perfect clerk, respect designated superiors, compromise, propagate and speak English to land plum jobs, learn by rote, use manpower not automation, perpetuate social turmoil to turn mass attention away from the ruler’s megalomaniac actions. 

In today’s political situation, the bad bacteria from these commandments appear to be flourishing and infiltrating the 3 very clear political classes that are emerging: (1) “Elite dynasty followers class,” an off-shoot of British colonialism, (2) “Non secular class as per opposition’s perception,” and (3) “New politically active dharna (protest) class.” With bad bacteria smothering India, everyone’s lungs have been infected in various degrees.

Elite dynasty follower class:” The feudal attitude of these politicians is evident from various arrogant references. One equated economy airplane seats to “cattle class;” another mocked the opposition candidate’s humble tea selling livelihood beginnings, saying rising above that would be impossible but selling tea outside the venues of important dynasty follower meetings will be allowed. When the dynasty candidate jumps atop a police van defying road traffic rules to allow the outstretched hands of “subjects” to touch his fingers, it’s not considered a mistake, just “de-dynastification.” But for our country’s huge population that travels over a heap of bricks in a truck or climbs atop utility vehicles to wash them, this charade is every day lived experience.  Trapped with low incomes, they consider rich privileged people as a higher caste, an elevated status the poor cannot occupy. Interestingly, the not rich and young Zap generation perceive such showmanship as election drama hype where nothing substantial will occur for them in any case. 

Non secular class as per opposition’s perception:” A predetermined single candidate often becomes a driving force, as in the Presidential election system followed by the US, France and others. Although the “non secular class as per opposition’s perception” has declared a leader, their super-leaders warn against over-confidence as in 2004. Actually all parties have understood it’s not easy to get the common man to select a 2014 election candidate. But when a single leader is focused, winning possibilities increase, as people can identify the person, as evident in the 2011 West Bengal assembly election. The current Chief Minister’s hard hitting spotlight was in sharp contrast to the then Leftist party’s focus on the Party, not an individual. So the Party was shocked with defeat after 34 uninterrupted years of ruling.

TV intervention: When elite national ruling politicians display anger on television, their attitude seems to reflect, “Voters should vote, not interfere with the dynastic kingdom. We know what they deserve.” Sometimes their party colleagues play to the gallery by showing intolerance for such arrogance, although the not rich and Zappers instantly recognize it as a balancing act to keep the electorate quiet. Actually leaders and followers of both dynastic and non secular parties get into chaotic television debates. They should record themselves along with the anchor to hear sounds no different from busy railway stations or fish markets. I wonder why they rant like that? If the voter were my customer, why would I express such anger? It’s time the political class takes lessons on developing soft skills to talk graciously on TV and to the masses.

New politically active dharna (protest) class:” This class is extremely edgy about stopping bad bacteria from continuing to infect politics. When they fight bacteria with dharnas, the other classes that kowtow to the colonial ruling system feel unsteady as the carpet’s being pulled from under their feet. Suddenly accepted conventions and interpretations are getting challenged. Unexpectedly the social chasm has become visible between the upper class that’s currently content with power, money and contacts bringing them a comfortable life, and the neglected, lower income society. The masses have to contend with corruption, harassment, inconvenience and indignity on a daily basis. Revolt from this society that’s tired of being smothered with platitudes will pose severe unanticipated problems. This population is of 2 types; the largest section tolerantly accepts everything, the non-accepters become hooligans. Both have their reasons because the Government takes no responsibility for their dignity of life and livelihood.

Take the life of the golgappa / puchka / panipuri (crunchy wheat-spice-lentil snack) seller. This street vendor has to find a spot where many people move around, like marketplaces, adjacent to Government offices where the public are made to wait, outside girls’ colleges, construction or factory sites. Daily sales stretch Rs 900-2000 depending on location, day of the week, whether it’s raining, sweltering heat or biting cold. After deducting his spend for procurement, transport and daily bribes, his net income swings between Rs 300-700. He struggles for a lucrative, crowded place every day, but high demand areas correspondingly command higher kickbacks. Standing 9-12 hours daily, 7 days a week, he physically cannot attend to his family. Should he fall sick, his income goes for a toss. Who can resolve his vulnerable situation? It’s illegal to be a floating vendor unless he’s lucky to be among the one million with Hawkers Cards issued by the Government. Whether allowed or disallowed, his is a situation of mercy. So dharna class politics becomes relevant for him.

For those immune to colonial bacteria, display of revolt by the dharna class chief minister is quite disconcerting. The fervor of their criticism equals the connect basic masses have for new dharna politics. Without hype or hunger for the comfort of bacterial politics, if the dharna class seriously wants to break bad colonial bacteria, they can create real disruption. Becoming accountable to those they rule, they can apply the genuine vaccination to stop this bacterial politics. But if the vaccination is antibiotic with short term effect, they too will dissipate. Continuing the discomfort they have created will help ferret out the hitherto unacknowledged elite-downtrodden divide and cleanse our colonial bacteria forever.

To download above article in PDF Colonial bacteria in Indian politics

Financial Express link:http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/colonial-bacteria-in-indian-politics/99/

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Posted on 19-01-2014
Filed Under (BUSINESS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Adolf Hitler had expressed his strong admiration of the British Emperor’s supremacy in colonizing large parts of the world to make Britain an “Empire where the sun never sets.” In planning to establish the colonial empire of the Greater Germanic Reich of the German Nation, he hoped that Germany would emulate British "ruthlessness" and "absence of moral scruples.” I better understood Hitler’s appreciation very recently while visiting the Cellular Jail in the Andaman Islands. It’s known as Kalapani (black water) for the mental and physical nadir that Indian political prisoners were jettisoned into when exiled to darkness here.

Aside from other problems, the immediate trigger for India’s 1857 First War of Independence was the tallow grease cartridge for the new pattern 1853 Enfield rifle where Indian soldiers had to bite the cartridge to release the powder. The grease used was rumoured to be beef tallow that offended Hindus and lard derived from pork that was offensive to Muslims. It could be argued that as there were 300,000 Indian sepoys, numerically higher than the British army of 50,000 soldiers, the British could quell this revolt only with the severe punishment of solitary confinement in the Andamans. Although the Cellular prison was constructed between 1896 and 1906, the revolting soldiers have been packed off to this penal colony set up since 1789.

The political prisoners who opposed British power with violence throughout India’s freedom struggle suffered life imprisonment in the Cellular jail. They suffered degraded conditions compounded with torturous hard labor. Many were sent to the gallows, others died of disease, starvation, or committed suicide as they could not take the indignities heaped on them. Professor Pramod Srivastava of Lucknow University recording oral history of Kalapani from 19 erstwhile prisoners revealed unknown horror stories like prison cells teeming with scorpions, and when a revolutionary complained of eye pain, the jail doctor poured alcohol resulting in his vision loss. Yet imagine, inspite of the heinous treatment the British meted out to our freedom fighters, we still continue to call the capital city Port Blair, the name that was given to honor Lieutenant Archibald Blair of the British East India Company who first annexed the islands as British territory.

When you see the solid, 5-pronged jail structure, it seems like the British had planned to stay forever. From the central tower, movements on all sides can be watched. This was a prison to torture and demoralize inmates. Compare it to the temporary-looking Auschwitz concentration camp built by Hitler to exterminate innocent Jewish, handicapped, homosexuals and gypsies as part of his Final Solution in his strategy of 1000 years of the 3rd Reich. The other famous prison is Alcatraz, isolated off San Francisco bay, ostensibly for the correction of crooks.

The mass of Indian tourists to the Cellular jail displayed no compassion as they stomped up and down the huge building. I saw them laughing, taking turns to pose as convicts behind the bars of the dingy cells, or making mocking faces of being hurt and injured, while putting an arm around the statue that depicted a freedom fighter being flagellated. They were visiting as if this was the beautiful Taj Mahal. The problem is that British colonization actually spread bacteria that infected everybody in our country to unwittingly become slaves to a culture alien to us. Our simple masses did not understand how the British manipulated the Indian upper class to retain British culture as supreme. The Indian politicians who were against violence for Independence were alleged to be collaborators of the British. So the rest of India never understood the history of British viciousness in the Cellular jail. Today when people are paying Rs 10 to enjoy the prison visit, you don’t see any reflection of horror at what was perpetuated, much less hate towards the perpetrators.

In contrast when I often visit the Auschwitz concentration camp I feel a sense of solemnity, the sorrow among individuals from different countries who condemn the atrocities committed by the Nazis. Of course when you go to Alcatraz in San Francisco you hear different stories of incredible bandits. The guides explain in 2 ways, the notorious prisoners and the ingenious rebel techniques they used, and the cruelty of the security wardens.

Ambiguity of Indian society is phenomenal. Like slow poison, British culture was injected into the Indian bloodstream through the 200 years they colonized us. The method was so refined that consciously or unconsciously we swallowed the medicine of Lord Macauley, who was the inaugural member of the first Supreme Council of India that governed in 1834-38. His objective was to break the moral fibre of Indians in subjugating them as otherwise the British were not in a position to dominate India. He advocated building “a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect… who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern.”

So from the British Raj, ten commandments were surreptitiously handed down to Indians: (1) Don’t challenge, respect your superior, (2) Compromise, adjust to every situation without revolting, (3) Be content to be a second category citizen, (4) Become the most competent clerk, (5) Speak proper English, imbibe British manners, (6) Don’t take responsibility, be a subordinate, (7) Use manpower rather than automation, and be dependent on Great Britain to provide modern means of productivity, (8) Play with caste, religion or other ways to perpetuate social turmoil, turning attention away from the ruler, (9) Marginalize the existing Indian education system, propagate English medium schools especially for elite Indians, (10) Speaking fluent English is the first criterion to get plum jobs.

The impact of these colonial 10 commandments is very high in India even today in business, education, politics and social areas. Hopefully the coming generations of Zappers, those born into the liberalized era who follow no traditional role models will nullify these 10 colonial commandments, but it may take another 60-70 years.

To download above article in PDF Colonial Supremacy

Financial Express link:http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/from-the-discomfort-zone-colonial-supremacy/0/

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Posted on 12-01-2014
Filed Under (TRENDS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Visiting beautiful places in India, not as a researcher but a tourist accompanying my best friend from Paris, I was quite enamored to find that low income group people are touring historical monuments with a great deal of interest. Both in the Christmas chill of the north and the warm balmy breeze of southern beaches, it was evident that holidaying has become a pronounced activity among the masses.

The consuming pattern is certainly growing after 22 years of economic reforms in India. At Orchha Palace in Madhya Pradesh we were surprised that so many Indian visitors were climbing up and down the Jahangir Mahal, a particularly ornamented specimen of Mughal architecture built in the 15th century by the Rajput king of Orchha. Its noteworthy that Emperor Akbar’s queen and Jahangir’s mother was a Rajput princess Jodha from Amber. Legend has it that Orccha Palace is where Jahangir took shelter when he incurred his father’s wrath for loving a commoner, as depicted in the film Mughal-e-Azam. Our host, the Rajasaheb of Alipura who accompanied us commented that when there was no charge levied to see this palace, nobody used to come; but ever since a small entry fee was started, mass visitors are flooding in. Domestic tourism has surely come to stay.

In Khajuraho, the guide Anand was a very interesting personality. He’s actually a 40-year-old farmer who does the job of a guide with fluent and admirable English. He wears a pair of stone-washed jeans with the US flag knit-stitched as his back pocket. In the high tourist season from October to March, he’s learnt how to excite both foreign and Indian tourists with the erotic exotica of Khajuraho’s temples protected as Unesco’s World Heritage. He makes Rs 2000 to 3000 per day during this period. When Indians come with whole family in a religious mood to worship at the temples built by the Chandelas, a powerful Rajput dynasty of the 10th to 12th centuries, he feels frustrated. He says it becomes very difficult for him to explain the details of the Khajuraho factor. Whereas when foreign visitors hire him, it’s more interesting because they want to learn every detail from him.

In fact I was watching Anand hold forth, displaying his vast knowledge of the 85 temples, revealing that only 20 remain today. He pointed out that the sculptures were part of the temple structure and not ornamentation. There were three types, divinities, female nymphs or apsaras and the most famous Mithuna, the sculptures of couples in graceful, amorous, coitus, or sexual positions. Sometimes the foreign visitors totally flummox Anand. In front of one of the famous Kamasutra postures, a tourist asked whether the sculpture was the top view or the real standing position. Anand was at a loss to answer properly. The foreigner was justifying that it may be the top view as the necklace is not falling but straight. Another foreign tourist, who appeared to be a connoisseur of Khajuraho, explained that it is not the top view. He said nobody should look at the necklace because in Indian art and sculpture, the decorative part is more important than the realistic aspect of the necklace hanging. So according to one foreigner explaining to another foreigner, this is the real essence of Kamasutra, “sex with meditation.” Then Anand brightened up and congratulated the learned foreigner, saying that he particularly enjoyed guiding Europeans who very seriously research the subject they are about to view. This farmer was certainly quick on the uptake and knew how to retain his business. Later when I asked him about his parents and other family members, he answered that the older one know nothing about these sexual expressions. For them, these are just like other temples.

Next at the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata, after paying Rs 10 per ticket, we found a phenomenal crowd. They had all come from villages and were entering the foundation steps, scrutinizing the paintings, photographs, sculptures and weapons of the British Raj with huge passion and curiosity. But what disappointed me was the poor upkeep where metal shutters were put and painted white, and visible from outside was a huge dump yard of carton boxes and building materials on the top floor. I asked some of the young people in this crowd what had brought them in. They replied that they learnt about our colonial heritage from the Internet, that this large marble museum, built between 1906 and 1921, was in the memory of the Empress of India, Queen Victoria. Even in Delhi’s Qutub Minar to Agra’s Taj Mahal, I saw at least 3 times more of mass visitors than foreign tourists. They were serious about finding out more about our historical monuments and keep the local guides busy.

The crux of the subject is that everybody has the mobile phone. Digital knowledge is driving India’s low income society to enter previously uncharted territory. They are travelling within the country like never before. Our dogmatic and traditional political parties have still not understood the power of this growing curiosity and hunger to know new things that digital technology has induced. For example, when I asked taxi drivers and street vendors in West Bengal about the current political condition of the state, they say there’s serious improvement that they had not experienced in the 35 years of the Left Government. Taxi drivers in Delhi too are highly appreciative of the new political era where they feel their voices and woes will be considered.

People with basic, low incomes are changing drastically. The advent of digital technology is making them aware of their rights, waking them up to become digital mindset voters. Enjoying newfound transparency, they are excited about the prospect of getting their rights with political support through digital media. Exciting times are ahead as we enter the polling booths at a national level in a few months. Unpredictability is slated to be the new political dimension tomorrow.

To download above article in PDF Entering uncharted territory

Financial Express link:http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/entering-uncharted-territory/

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Posted on 05-01-2014
Filed Under (TRENDS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Exactly a hundred years ago, in 1914, we had encountered one of last century’s most remarkable years. A new era started, particularly in the Western world with change that encompassed the great, bad and ugly. In several aspects change became significant, from incredible invention after invention to the social, political, education, technology, science, art and literature, changing agrarian culture to socio economic living standards. Let me pick 3 events, social, business and political, that turned the world upside down, before looking at India through a century.

Reality through entertainment: In 1914, Charlie Chaplin invented his immortal "Little Tramp" character quite by chance when he was rummaging through the film studio props. A pair of baggy pants, a coat too small and tight, a bowler hat, oversize pair of shoes, a cane and the now famous mustache make up the Tramp. He walks uncomfortably because of the ill-fitting, second-hand gear. In the Tramp Chaplin created a bumbling, but generally good-hearted character who tries to display a gentleman’s dignity and manners while actually being a vagrant. He tries to take paying jobs but ends up using his cunning to survive and escape authority figures out to catch him for his childlike antics.  Usually the victim of circumstance and coincidence, the Tramp can perhaps represent poor people who always have to put up with strong authoritarian attitudes. Chaplin himself came from very humble beginnings, so he perhaps wanted to sensitize people through artistic expression and through the humour route on the plight of poor people.

Changing the manufacturing industry practice: Inspite of automaker Henry Ford having an anti-Semitic reputation because his political leanings were towards Nazi human exterminator Adolf Hitler, he stunned American industry in 1914 by increasing the wages of his workers to $5 per day. The growing demand for Ford Model T vehicles made Ford develop production on a grand scale.  His single greatest contribution to the automotive manufacturing process was introducing the moving assembly line.  Being tremendously efficient, the assembly line helped the company surpass production levels of its competitors and made the vehicles more affordable. But actually the assembly line was tedious work so attrition was very high. Ford’s revolutionary idea to stop attrition was doubling of wages. He declared that he wanted every Ford worker to be proud of his own work, and the higher wages was to allow them to buy and drive the car they manufactured at Ford Motor Company. This ideation of well-paid workers owning the cars they manufactured changed manufacturing practices forever, set the industry standard for manufacturing in other industries and significantly contributed to creating the American middle class.

End of Europe’s 5-century dominance over the world: The political dimension took a totally new route with the world’s first high technology war in World War I, 1914. The "champs du bataille" or battlefield tactics changed from human exertion and physical power to become switch-button warfare.  Mass annihilation, crass brutality and size of armies were all unprecedented in the history of the world. The new weapons used were airplanes, submarines, machine guns, tanks and poison gas, and new war horrors were crated. Over 9 million soldiers died, civilian populations became a target of war, both the Germans and British tried to starve each other by cutting off supplies. Triggered by the Austrian heir apparent, Franz Ferdinand, being murdered in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Hercegovina, all of Europe and the Balkans felt jittery. Their long term causes of nationalism, militarism, imperialism, the fatalistic mood of 1914, armaments and mobilization plans came on top to start World War I.  History has since proved that such suspicions have not abated till today.

India from 1914 to 2014: The effect of the 1914 dose of change that the West went through may not have reached our country at the mass level as that’s when we were still dominated in colonial slavery by the British Raj.  In India we felt the real impact of change after 1945 when World War II ended. It would be interesting to investigate the fate of our Freedom Movement if the Labour Party had not entered the British Parliament with a landslide victory after the War. That’s when the Conservative party lost the election although personally the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who had masterminded the Allied Forces victory with US President Dwight Eisenhower, won the election. The British people led by the Labour Party were totally opposed to Great Britain having colonies and in the mood to liberate the colonized. They found that colonization and Hitler’s dictatorship where he had subjugated and exterminated the Jews, gypsies and homosexuals, are not so different by nature.  Another question in the air could be that if there were no World War I & II, India may still have been under the British governance today.

Since the last 67 years after Independence we’ve had traditional dogmatic politics running in India, very monopolistic, sometimes imported or otherwise continuing the “Raj” style for political leaders. The illiterate masses are only required for their votes. They’ve had no choice to claim their rightful demands to survive with dignity and aspiration. It’s quite possible that India in 2014 is now turning to a new political platform era, breaking with traditional political manifestation. The effectiveness of exploiting Internet social networking for electioneering became evident when such usage ushered in US President Barack Obama into the White House for his first term. In India the Government of Delhi was formed via similar means.

On a touristic visit of India I’m now making with a few old visiting French friends, I’ve observed that our consuming society is being exposed to all the new winds of change from around the globe. Such change is spreading quietly like bacteria in the country. And that is what’s tremendously impacting the political climate for tomorrow. Next week I’d love to narrate to you different aspects of changing consuming patterns among both rural and urban Indians.

To download above article in PDF A century of change

Financial Express link:http://www.indianexpress.com/news/a-century-of-change/1215647/0

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