Philosophy & Religion

Philosophy and religion are not one and the same. But, of what use is philosophy if it doesn’t touch religion? and of what use is religion if it has nothing to do with philosophy? Well, that is at least how my thinking works.

My favorite philosopher of the modern age is Bertrand Russell. I don’t understand or follow the philosophers of the past be it Aristotle, Plato or even for that matter the relatively modern greats like Nietzsche. What philosophers say sometimes seems to make sense only during their times and their personal perception of the past as seen during their lifetime. They don’t make much sense anymore. Bertrand Russell on the other hand stays on topic and doesn’t veer off into prose that betrays yours senses. To him and others that I will come across, I do feel inspired by what they have to say about the human mind and our social behaviors.

It is my personal belief that philosophers created God and politicians (kings) created religion. It can also be assumed that only kings listened to philosophers. Hence, who patronized whom and when God and religion became one is difficult to comprehend.

I was deeply religious as a kid. Everything was about God. My success was because of God. My failure was because of God. Luckily, in the Hindu religion, I could chose from thousands of Gods. So, it wasn’t as depressing as locking yourself to one person and that too a man! Women are more comforting and better as Gods. Of course, who my favorite God was kept changing with time. One day, I wondered why so? It didn’t seem to make sense. Something was flawed. I also realized that each one of us have a certain interpretation of God and religion that doesn’t match with any other person’s belief. Even if it was the same God, the same religion or even if it was your parents and siblings. That didn’t make sense either! Something seemed tricky about this entire God business. Since then, I have been reading the works of strong anti-theists like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. Great and refreshing perspectives came from this side of the Godly business. However, I haven’t turned anti-God although I have been losing respect for religion of any kind as such.

Religion has a lot of good teachings and stories of the good life. For me, they are all philosophers and their works are of philosophy. Not religion. It cannot be stolen by any particular religion as its own. Sankaracharya to me was an Advaita philosopher. The religious identity comes from the fact that he was in Hindu India at that time. Of course, political patronage meant that this was eventually carried forward as a religious belief.

Inspired by one such thought was my interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu epic, as an actual work of religious philosophy. I stretched that thought further to write a book and self-publish it. I called it AHAM, the sanskrit word for “I”.

So much to enjoy learning from the greatest thinkers the world has produced. A never ending journey…A beautiful ride in the mind-bending realm of human existence in this universe….

0Shares

Ilaiyaraaja vs. A.R. Rahman

One of the dilemma’s that South Indians have in their lives (talking about the 30+ middle-aged guys) is that one day they end up having a debate about who is the best music director in the country (basically means music for movies).

In that conundrum rise two names, legends in their own right, accomplishments of different kinds, and of course widely divergent in their presentation of their musical offerings – Ilaiyaraaja and A.R. Rahman. The former is a legend who composed over 6000 movie songs in multiple languages since the 70s. The latter musician, with more modern music under his belt has won the Oscar and a whole bunch of other accolades. He of course rules the uno position generally speaking in the Indian heartland.

If one grew up in the 80s in South India, like me, Ilaiyaraaja was like music God. Nobody came close and they couldn’t either. One good song after the other was released by this maestro almost every day. When I was in my 12th grade, A.R. Rahman stormed the scene with music for the movie Roja. Many didn’t know that music could sound like this also! Of course, western musicians wouldn’t be surprised by this movie, but India had its own Indian music that came first.

One of the never ending debates that even happens today is to declare who is the better between the two musicians. Ilaiyaraaja is rightfully called as “Isaignaani” – A great scholar of music! A.R. Rahman on the other hand is considered as the Mozart of Madras.

After careful analysis and consideration, I have come to the following conclusion expressed in this equation. It is only a matter of perspective after all and who is greater or better depends on the music listener’s preference for what is more important for them between melody and music (as in instrumental play). In other words, what touches their heart first?

So, here is the final solution:

Ilaiyaraaja = Melody + Music

A.R. Rahman = Music + Melody

A.R. Rahman’s early career when he struggled to establish himself was in creating catchy jingles for Ads. Everything from the second a song begins is about the music that hits the instrumental appetite of the listener. Every song of his generally has this pattern.
Ilaiyaraaja, who grew up in a remote Southern village, had no access to all the musical instruments in his struggling years. This has given him a capability to create melody in his songs. One can test it by humming his songs without any music in the background. It will still sound good. The instrumental music does help but isn’t what hits you first.

Anyways, so that is it. Solved the ultimate musical puzzle of the century for all lovers of these two Indian music greats!

 

0Shares

Ilaiyaraaja – musical genius

Growing up in the South during the 80s, particularly in Tamil Nadu meant that there was only one name on everyone’s lips when it came to music, Ilaiyaraaja. Doling out one hit song after the other for movies in all the Southern languages, he was way beyond a cult favorite. Folks used to whistle and scream in excitement when Ilaiyaraaja’s name showed up on the silver screen in movie theaters. Such acts of adoration was only reserved for the movie hero.

In an interview he did at the Google HQ he talked about the regimen he followed morning to night every day for more than thirty years of his life. Unbelievable discipline,dedication and determination to the art.

Ilaiyaraaja at Google

Ilaiyaraaja’s musical genius is also evident in the background music and title music he gave to movies. This is one of my favorite You Tube channels: Navin Mozart: Ilaiyaraaja BGM

Personally, I think the Film industry did a disservice by locking him to movie songs that do not allow the full range of music, melody and vocals to play out like in a symphony. This makes all his songs wonderful to listen but don’t sustain beyond the few minutes they are played to finish the song. Some of the below should have been more of what this genius should have doled out in his lifetime!

How to Name It!

0Shares

FDA – Can this Regulator Resist Capitalism’s Behemoths

Among several regulatory bodies, if one has to pick the two biggest promoters or inhibitors of capitalist expansion in the US, it is the FDA and SEC. The SEC in recent times has again gained prominence in the media due to the Wall Street disaster and the sudden love people have found for more monitoring of so called “greedy” Wall Street practices through the SEC. In similar lines, the FDA also comes under the radar and mostly misses the hawk eyes of the media because of the nature of its responsibilities. Certain concerns I have with how SEC can truly manage greed at Wall Street also applies to how the FDA can effectively do it.

For starters, the FDA is a government body and probably employs people with an inclination towards working in a government enterprise. Looking at how Americans in general perceive government jobs, I believe applicants to the FDA may also fall into a group that is not so sought after by many. Moreover, the FDA is a regulatory authority with heavy “influential” capabilities. This means the power to dictate the direction in which business establishments move. However, as I often feel, with power comes politics or vice-versa. So, working on these hypothetical assumptions, there are a lot of questions that cross my mind. Questions for which I still seek answers.
The FDA has 9300 employees with a budget of $2.3 Billion (2008) . 30% of that money comes from user fees, charges levied on companies who submit new applications for prescription drugs, medical devices etc. So, in effect, the government is contributing to only 70% of this budget.
The FDA not only regulates new product entrants but also existing products in food, Health and Beauty aids, medical devices and biological products. The companies that were talking about in these areas are not only within the US but also spread around the world. Several among these companies are giant corporations with multi-billion dollar sales and dominant market shares in the world. Even by taking a wild stab, the combined “wealth” of these companies in terms of their market influencing capability (based on their sales) will be about $500 Billion. Assuming that only 50% of their sales is spent on creating products that are monitored or evaluated by the FDA, we arrive at a $250 Billion spend for these companies.

0Shares

Exit from US, Re-entry to India

Thoughts noted back in 2010...

In the recent four weeks, I went through an interesting change in life. After having spent six years in the US doing my MBA and working for the World's largest corporation, I decided to move back to India and accomplished that in a matter of a few weeks. The transition from life in one country to a new beginning in another was of course challenging for my family. In the course of a rapid-fire four weeks, I observed and noted some interesting aspects of things around me, which I felt were a small reflection of why I made a decision to move back to India, a reluctant decision usually among most NRIs residing in the US.
 
 
Life in the US is about a few key elements mixed in your life - Opportunities, Respect for the individual, Convenience and Consumption. While the country offers a lot more than just the above four, as a foreign "alien" visiting the US to make a living, these four ingredients mixed in different combinations usually end up being the reason one knowingly or unknowingly prefers staying in the US as against one's home country. However, my personal experience led me to understand that the first two reasons - opportunities and respect for the individual, are very speculative elements. They are subjective and  also heavily dependent on how truly miserable a life one led in his home country. But, the latter two elements - convenience and consumption, are by and large the biggest reason for one sticking to the US like glue. What I realized to my disappointment was that while I value convenience, I knew how to get a reasonable variation of that back in India. When it came to consumption, my family just plain hated it. Apart from creating a sense of gluttony within your daily existence, it is highly addictive and also takes over your life. Once you start carrying your shopping bags or start browsing shopping websites, there is just too much to sell from China and too much to stock in the US. All the while, one loses track of the time, energy and money spent on chasing that consumer dream of managing greed.
 
Once these four elements were dealt with, it became quite clear to me that the playing field was level in both countries. There were still imbalances either in favor or not in favor of one country over the other, but they were either balancing out or less relevant from a personal standpoint. For example, in a beautiful comfortable car, I could drive peacefully on well paved roads for work or to shop in the US. In India, I can never achieve this given the poor standards of infrastructure development. But, I can shop less, drive less and manage to have a driver to meet the same needs I have. Certain painful factors like corruption will always be a constant pain in India as it takes a heavy toll on getting things done in a convenient manner. However, if one is willing to develop the patience required to handle such situations, the pain is reduced, although still existent.
 
 
Now, coming to the observations I made just before leaving the US, I realized what challenges lie in getting things done in the US if you don't fall into a convenient "template" of a general consumer. That in turn led me to believe that it is mostly the perception that matters rather than the reality of things wherever one lives in. I have listed them out as random thoughts as they were indeed random events that happened over the course of 3 weeks in the US and India.
 
I used USPS to mail a check for paying off my financial loans on a Toyota car I bought. This vehicle brought a lot of trouble for me initially as it ended up having the unique distinction of being the car with the most weird recalls in history. It ended up performing well, but I had to make multiple trips to the dealership to make sure it worked right. The check I mailed was lost. Either lost in transit or by the Toyota finance company that processes the check. The customer service team was courteous as usual to give me no help as it is not always that they deal with lost checks from a customer. 
 
While I ended up being clueless as to what I should do to leave the country by paying off my loans without triggering any red alerts, the power of social media saved the day. I tweeted about the bad experience and it was immediately picked up by a Customer Service Manager in Toyota. In the course of a week, after running multiple times to the bank to get back my lost money, I repaid my loan dues and got the matter closed. I also tested the intellectual limitations of a bank that handles Western Union transactions as they didn't know how to process an amount for my loan payoff that their computer was constantly rejecting. I finally got it processed from a Western Union center handled by some Punjabi immigrants running a postal service in Sunnyvale. 
 
Moral of the story: Good and Bad experiences happen in the US too. What is considered as superior customer service is good as long as you follow a template version of a consumer who is well served and common.

 
I called up Citibank to explore options to pay my private student loans once I'm back in India. The customer service team listed out a couple of options. First, I lose a minuscule 0.25% interest rate reduction to begin with. The reason being that I cannot link my automatic payments to a foreign bank account to make my payments. Hence, all I can do is use PayPal or wire transfer to continue my loan payments. Well, this is probably fair on the part of the bank except that no sensible American citizen would take a private student loan to pursue an expensive  education in US universities. That ridiculous behavior belongs to Indian or Chinese or  other foreign students who are funding their education abroad. Citibank's template like assumption for students makes a broad-based assumption that these helpless students would anyways work in the US only and hence they will have a US bank account for paying their dues. 
 
Given the economic direction and the immigration rhetoric of American politicians, it should have been fairly simple logic for Citibank's strategic loan sharks to understand that not all foreign students stay back in the US for a career. Given that probably >80% of their loan business comes from foreign students, it should have been prudent on their part to allow for easy foreign bank payments and better interest rate reductions. 
 
Moral of the story: Better follow the oft beaten path to existence or start facing the consequences of making under-served choices. If you really want to complain, there are enough reasons in every small detail of one's daily existence, no matter where you live.

 
I made an attempt to sell some furniture and electronics items on Craigslist. This famous purchase and barter site for used goods obviously comes with a large local buyer base and also the danger of being tricked. A certain guy in Florida showed interest in purchasing my sofa in California. This guy wanted to first check with his wife if she liked the professional photographs I sent of the sofa. He then wanted to mail me some payment or wire it to me with some additional money also put in. He then wanted me to give the sofa to some guys with a van willing to pick them up. I then had to pay the additional amount to the movers so that they happily leave. Short of saying you are a cheat, I stopped by saying I will deal locally and only accept cash. The guy's language, temper and wishes of being blessed by Jesus Christ all disappeared in his next email to me. I left it there with no counter response although I do have the distinction of being very clever with words in my emails at work. 
 
Other items saw some people come in to my house only to realize that we were Indians. There was some uncomfortable look in their faces on seeing us and they made their exit even without seeing the items being sold. Also, some Indians settled in the US came with their hawk-eyes and "I hate to trust you" attitude to purchase my TV and furniture. After inspecting all items as part of their quality management process, they rejected my items and went back home. Walmart would have been proud to hire such folks for their sourcing business. 
 
Other customers on Craigslist chose to play a trick that my grandmother was proficient at in her village to buy a spoon from a merchant. Reduce the quote price by half, ask for more details like who the designer was for a coffee table, and then wait for a few days to see if the pressure of not being able to sell the items will force me to come down further than the 50% reduction initially proposed. Given my so called desperate state, even after coming down to those low prices, many didn't show up or just suddenly lost interest. I never knew such pleasantries existed in the second-hand buying market of the US. Or maybe, it was just a California thing. After all, similar to the way I abused car drivers in Hyderabad for their lack of brains in understanding what a lane meant, I did the same with Bay Area drivers who didn't know what lane changing meant. 
 
Moral of the story: Like a frog in a well that comfortably thinks everything within the well is the only World, existence even in developed nations like US is comfortable as long as you belong to the well where others exist. Outside of that, you will find the same challenges and opportunities that invite you in other places around the World.

 
Dumping things in trash bins is not as easy as I thought. First, good California regulations prevent households from dumping hazardous materials in trash bins. I love that rule. In India, anything can be dumped on roads or in the open space outside an empty trash bin as long as you can walk away with no sense of moral guilt in your heart. My apartment complex (Estates at Park Place) had a great team of service personnel and one day, I was caught by one of them near a stinky dumpster for about 30 minutes. I was not caught for dumping anything bad, but that gentleman wanted someone to talk to about the pain he goes through in clearing trash. Maybe I already looked jobless to him and he didn't care that I was an apartment resident and had better things to do. The guy was from the Philippines and did several odd jobs before handling the dumpsters here. He loves the US as he feels he still has a house and a LCD TV of his own. He complained about how people living in nearby million dollar homes sneak up in the middle of the night to dump large kitchen cabinets, sofa sets and other ridiculous items that they cannot dump in front of their beautiful homes either for aesthetic reasons or for the hefty fines they have to pay. Anyways, I was taken to each dumpster and made to do a visual inspection of the kind of items that these home owners dump. He also showed how he cleverly deduced that these items were not from people within my apartment based on special markings that I didn't understand.
 
Anyways, this experience made me realize that I couldn't afford to dump anything unacceptable in the trash bins while clearing my apartment. That in turn added to my misery of how to get rid of stuff that others don't want to take. In India, people take things even if you don't want them to. It was not required for me to plan meticulously for two weeks to see how I can get rid of things I don't want.
Moral of the story: Consumption in the US is a double edged sword. It feels good as long as it keeps coming. It however turns out to be painful as we try to let it go. Nevertheless, the true lesson is that every place has it own set of unique challenges that either help or torment you based on what your needs are.
 
 
After having arrived in India by letting go of my alien status, I got a rapid fire taste of what India has in store for its people. Pollution, waterlogged roads due to the monsoon and rash vehicle drivers who don't care for their life all combined together to make me fall sick within a week of arrival. Of course, the weather did it, but these other factors somehow added to my misery. But I got back on my feet within a few days and accepted that this is the normal state of affairs out here. 
 
I watched television to note that an actor allegedly murdered someone and the courts let her go as she already served her sentence. Surprisingly, the media didn't think otherwise. They gave their own verdict on their news channels with the least regard to what the courts had to say. It is not always that court cases are solved in India and this case already took three quick years! The media however decided that their verdict is that the actor is guilty and the person needs to be punished for much longer. How long is something that they were willing to allow the courts to again decide on. They just love to announce their unique form of justice. The Prime Minister of India, who of late seems to just hate the idea of talking to anyone but himself also lamented at this very scary state of affairs -"the media is the accuser, prosecutor and judge", he said! I was scared too. The media can do anything. After all, most of them are owned or influenced by various political parties that the Prime Minister is also a part of. 
 
The fight for a separate statehood also saw a bandh (strike) for two days right now in my home State. Similar to the days when Indians were not Communists but still behaved that way, true to that ongoing tradition, anyone can stop anything from functioning normally in India. You can burn a bus as long as you don't get caught sitting in it. You can ransack a store as long as it is not your bread and butter business to survive. Maybe this is what unfiltered freedom means. Happiness for the offender, nuisance for the rest. 
 
Useless TV programs focused only on cinema and cricket have constantly frustrated me. This however still is the major form of entertainment in India apart from a new breed of screaming, loud mouthed journalists delivering "breaking" news by the hour. But, I should have known better that there are always other things to do in life than sit in front of a TV. 
 
 
While all this was on, I also got to realize that if I look through the mess, there are better things to pursue and enjoy even in this chaos. E-commerce and entrepreneurial ventures of all kinds are taking off in the country. Venture Capital backing is helping these companies get access to money to make more money. Somehow, not many seem to realize that VCs are just sophisticated money lenders functioning outside of a stock exchange with a cool business model. But who cares as long as they are willing to share money and some advice on growing a business in a highly volatile but lucrative market.
 
While I look forward to seeing how good and long this lasts, it is nevertheless a great feeling to realize that the India of today is not the India that I left six years before. Things are changing and one can hope it is for the best.

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 2,200 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 4 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

0Shares

Arundhati Roy’s Speech for Kashmir’s Independence: Secession or Confusion!?

Arundhati Roy is one of India’s most recognized writer and a social activist who has taken up several people causes in defiance of large corporate interests and governments. She has been highly critical of the US government policies, the actions of Israel and the decisions of the Indian government over the past several years. Like all intellectual activists who tend to create a controversy by speaking the untold truth in a hard-hitting manner, she had chosen several issues that make unruly governments and sheep-like people-followers very uncomfortable with what she says. After reading through several of her commentaries, essays and speeches, there are several things that are clear about her-
· she is very highly inquisitive about the World,
· has probably spent several hours and energy to gain an alternate perspective to largely accepted truths about the World,
· is very revolutionary and bold in her statements and outlook on life,
· has written a book, the God of Small Things, which was destined to be successful as it encompasses topics that titillate the literary palate of generous Western promoters as it hits right on what they perceive as always-a-winning-formula topics like “Indian Sex”, “Indian women exploitation”, “Indian religious bias” and “Indian caste system”. The caste system being one such word and social definition, created by our British masters, that we have so well hypnotized ourselves with,
· is lucky to have earned a lot of money showered by corporate big-wigs, publishing monopolies and wealthy sponsors of literary awards, the very people she supposedly despises the most, and
· is probably spending her money wisely for social causes and spending her time wisely on meaningful pursuits (which include conferences and meets where she is invited around the world to talk at and I’m guessing something she doesn’t charge for unlike past Presidents and ex-CEOs)
A feminist Indian woman national always deserves the respect and admiration of fellow Indians and the World at large. While India always produced and has seen several of them since ages, the greater part of the “developed” world only sees them rarely, like an oasis in a parched desert. Drawing inspiration myself from several of these people of her kind and related disposition, I am amazed by the power wielded by the intellectual mind.
Having said that, I would however like to divert my attention at this point to one topic that she has repeatedly been very rhetorical about, including the one instance where it probably went too far for the political leadership and the general public, during a conference in India on October, 2010. Taking a very unemotional view on the speech she made that day, I was amazed at how intellectually strong people also tend to suffer time and again from a “truth-based bias” that can force them to build opinions or say things that on introspection never lead to an objective evaluation of reality. Breaking down her speech into the important snippets of wisdom she shared that day, this is what we see.
1. Choice of conference: Arundhati Roy has gained international reputation, thanks to her books, but then a lot due to her fight-the-system campaigns primarily against the regimes in US, Israel and India. She has of course covered other countries in good details too, but the focal point for her international campaigns against the evil of “empires” has been these three countries. Roy has been in the company of some wonderful people like Howard Zinn and in Universities like Harvard to share her viewpoints on several topics.

Looking at all that, the Azaadi conference was a questionable choice, not because it had certain anti-India elements like Geelani, a Maoist leader who supports the killing of innocent people locked into jobs that support government establishments and a range of other speakers who became largely unheard. It was questionable because of two primary reasons:
a. the promotional intent of the conference, which happens with all conferences intent on spreading propaganda, was purely about why Kashmir should not be a part of India, but nothing else towards a discussion on what is the true path forward for all Kashmiris in the future. This was something Ms. Roy impressed upon towards the end of her speech but it didn’t bring any visible change to the rest of the speakers.
b. Whether today’s population in Kashmir, which consists of several unaccounted infiltrators from Pakistan’s NWFP, wants to accept or not, the Hindu minority was a very vital component of Kashmir’s unique culture and legacy. There was no representation from that minority group of Kashmir, thereby making the conference look like a propaganda farce than a forum for a Kashmir solution.

By choosing to become a popular voice of the ‘azaadi’ movement in the conference, Ms.Roy became a poster child for that movement, but at the same time, didn’t come out as a rational, unbiased social activist whose only bias, if at all, should be towards human justice and life.

2. Starting punch-lines: Every speaker intent on riling up their audience or seeking the occasional publicity stunt, start with a punch-line statement and then end with an even more powerful ending statement. These statements are meant to define the personality, message and overall outlook of the speaker. Adolf Hitler did that for the Nazi cause and as even Nazi-hating observers will admit, he was phenomenal at spreading his ideology to his audience. Winston Churchill did that too, although his speeches were mostly well written and well executed prose in the Queen’s English. Now, Arundhati Roy also started with a punch-line. These were the lines that Ms. Roy said (for exact transcript, you can watch her edited videos on YouTube):
“…Kashmir was never an integral part of India. Even the Indian government has accepted in the UN that it’s not an integral part of India…”
Well said, since the truth is that successive Indian governments starting with Nehru struggled with the definition of what is Kashmir for India. While some governments claimed that Kashmir is indeed a part of India, there were others who were not clear in what that meant.
But, here is the biggest disappointment that a person like me who sucks up to words of wisdom from intelligent people suffers from. Yes, Kashmir was not a part of India. It was a “princely” state of the British government that the Indian government got into its “empire” through a divine trick or intervention from the last British viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, and the then ruler, Raja Hari Singh. Yes, Kashmir was not a part of India. But, so are the North West Frontier province, Gilgit and Baluchistan not a part of Pakistan. So are Tibet, Inner Mongolia and other autonomous zones not a part of China. So are Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland not a part of the United Kingdom. So are Hawaii, Alaska and the US pacific settlements not a part of the Unites States. In fact, every so called country of this World has constituent states, local governments, ethnicities or most importantly people, which are not a part of that country or don’t want to be a part of that country. Wouldn’t it have been a great example in intellectual lecturing if Arundhati Roy had taken the pains to explain this simple reality to her audience and to the Indian public in general so that they understand what they are dealing with?
Since she didn’t mention it, now it brings into question the biggest feedback that people had for her speech, why didn’t you mention about Pakistan. Not a word was uttered about Pakistan in her speech. Maybe, she didn’t consider it as important to the agenda at hand. But, by not choosing to utter even a word about Pakistan, she missed out an opportunity to seal the deal for Kashmiri independence. Azad Kashmir or PoK is an occupied area of Kashmir that Pakistan took over right after Independence. Even after several successful wars, the Indians didn’t take it back. But that is a game or political ploy that we can reserve for later discussion. Azad Kashmir may not be having Human Rights reported issues of stone throwing or street protests, but it is everyone’s knowledge that it is a training ground for Islamic militants/terrorists/freedom fighters. Keeping that aside, it is one of the most economically poor states in the nation and has no great reputation for either the presence or treatment of minorities either.
Now, this conference is for the independence of Kashmir. But, why just from evil India? What about from evil Pakistan? What about from evil China? Now, by not asking that, she has proved that she just turned out to be a tool for Syed Geelani’s pro-Pakistan and anti-India banter for Kashmir’s independence. While she toyed with the golden word “justice” a lot of times in her speech, she failed to give enough justice to this very simple argument.
She then goes on with this statement:
“ See in 1947, we were told that India became a sovereign nation and a sovereign democracy, but if you look at what the Indian state did from midnight of 1947 onwards, that colonized country, that country that became a country because of the imagination of its colonizer—the British drew the map of India in 1899—so that country became a colonizing power the moment it became independent, and the Indian state has militarily intervened in Manipur, in Nagaland, in Mizoram, in Kashmir, in Telangana, during the Naxalbari uprising, in Punjab, in Hyderabad, in Goa, in Junagarh.”
Yes, the British indeed cooked up a map of India and in fact created a then non-existent nation called India for their propaganda and colonization purposes. Yes, there was Indian military intervention in the places she mentioned. It began with the iron-hand (aka use of military force if needed) policy of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel to bring the so called defined nation of India back into a single piece. Yes, Goa was militarily occupied. But, it was from the European Portuguese colonists- occupiers who obviously changed the social, religious and cultural landscape of that state over several years, most possibly by force. Without mentioning this and by including it into a laundry list of Indian exploits, she is still telling the truth but preferably telling the truth to suit her purposes. Hyderabad wanted to go with Pakistan. Yes, we would have had a mini Pakistan within the Indian empire serving the needs of the Pakistan Empire in West Pakistan and East Pakistan (later Bangladesh). Yet again, this is another bad example of blatantly listing out colonization pursuits of India by using hard hitting statements. Yes, Punjab was an issue. But, why is Western Punjab in Pakistan not an issue? My problem with her statements is not with the fact that she didn’t mention Pakistan, but with the fact that she didn’t utilize the power of truth to enlighten her audience. When truth is selectively used to serve the publicized or secret needs of a group or person, it is called propaganda. That is what she ended up doing – mere propaganda.
3. Kashmiri Minorities: Now, this conference was definitely portraying how a certain religious minority is being persecuted by the Indian armed forces in Kashmir since 1992. However, Kashmir’s minorities are not Muslims, but Hindus, Sikhs and Christians who have lived there since thousands of years. Again, the select choice of truth leads to a lot of questions on the genuineness of her thoughts. To look at some further statements by Ms. Roy,

“…since 1947, and when you look at who are those people that it (India) has waged war against—the Nagas, the Mizos, the Manipuris, people in Assam, Hyderabad, Kashmir, Punjab—it’s always a minority, the Muslims, the tribals, the Christians, the Dalits, the Adivasis, endless war by an upper caste Hindu state, this is what is the modern history of our country….”

Yes, India can be accused of waging war or containing dissent in the above mentioned places and the affected people were minorities. This unfortunately goes along with the concept of nation building or definition of a country that I talked about before. But, here is the catch. This so called war was waged against every inhabitant of India, by the Indian state and also by external states. Not just selectively against the minorities but against every identity possible. If not, it wouldn’t be possible that 80% of the country live on twenty rupees a day! The army may be a differentiating factor in some of these examples, but keeping the national borders intact is something that every country is fighting internally or externally for. Removing this barrier would mean the non-existence of India or for that matter, any country in this World as these are all mere political entities. While it is an ideal state of affairs, our 1000’s of years of World history tell otherwise.

This war wasn’t also waged by just an upper caste Hindu state. This repeated bashing of the Indian nation that a lot of foreign nationals love to accept and recognize is again mixed in ambiguity. It is not an upper caste but an upper class state. It is not a Hindu state but a vote-bank state. It may not be a true democratic state, but is definitely a political state. Here is why it is a class based and not a caste based state. Again taking Ms. Roy’s statement into consideration, it is not possible that 80% of the country lives in dire poverty because 80% of the population is lower caste. It is because 80% of that population belongs to a lower class in society irrespective of caste. This is a class difference that is bubbling and may burst in a revolution world-wide as NO country in this world is different.

Even Geelani’s much loved Pakistan (Nanga Bhooka Hindustan, Jaan se pyaara Pakistan!) is ruled by an upper class society even though it has draped itself in the green flag of a uniform, egalitarian Islamic nation. There are conflicting statistics on how many upper castes exist in India. This is so because, our country is an upper class, vote-bank based political state. The more you claim sops based on caste, the more you gain in the system. The more you gain, the more you enter the upper echelons of the class system and the more you enter the class system hierarchy, the more unknown become your caste origins. But going even by some questionable estimates, about 65% of upper castes live below the poverty line as defined by UN benchmark as those living under $1/day. These obviously are upper caste Hindus who are waging war against an upper class society consisting also of lower caste, religious minority and ethnic minority controllers of the nation – politicians, statesmen, activists, government officers and businessmen. A similar lower class in other countries of the World is also waging war against its own state that is represented by an upper class minority ruling their state. It is no joke that to become an MLA in a State assembly in India, you need to spend a crore (Rs 1 crore) a day for publicity stunts and for silencing your opponents. This doesn’t come from just being among a group of upper caste Hindu state rulers.

Vara Vara Rao, the Maoist leader who shared the dias with Ms. Roy is an upper caste Hindu Brahmin leader of the naxalites. But, he belongs to the lower class society and his fight, although at times violent, is for the rights of the lower class society. Ms. Roy either ignored this fact or preferred to not get there as it then would derail the strong message that she wanted to send in her hazy definition of India’s modern history. In fact, without getting into personal attacks of any kind, Arundhati Roy can and should be defined as an upper caste “Hindu” leader of the social activist masses. Although born as a Syrian Christian, she later married a Hindu man. Her upbringing was not in a lower caste society, but in fact, in a strong class system of Syrian Christians who are powerful and wealthy in the Kerala community. Her education has also been in India’s premier educational institutions, not something that the average Indian gets access to. In total, her background and upbringing indicate that she was more of an upper caste Hindu and also given her inheritance and work, a person belonging to the upper class society of India. If these communities are harmful, then one should cast doubts on her intentions too. If she is a defining part of modern Indian history, then her legacy and identity is also skewed.

Ms. Roy made some very hard hitting statements too that many people in the media didn’t care to bring up to help show her in a better light.
“…the great debates between Ambedkar and Gandhi and Nehru—they were also real debates and over these last sixty years whatever the Indian state has done, people in this country have argued and debated and deepened the meaning of freedom. We have also lost a lot of ground because we’ve come to a stage today where India a country that once called itself Non Aligned , that once held its head up in pride has today totally lain down prostrate on the floor at the feet of the USA. So we are a slave nation today, our economy is completely—however much the Sensex may be growing, the fact is the reason that the Indian police, the paramilitary and soon perhaps the army will be deployed in the whole of central India is because it’s an extractive colonial economy that’s being foisted on us…”

The above lines have a lot of warnings for the current state of affairs of our country and the rest of the World too. If one is willing to learn, there is a lot of literature and opinions on how a market based capitalist economy slowly intruding and taking over democratic rule of a state will eventually lead to large scale destruction of people, resources and the environment. We are already seeing that in action with the US economy slowly churning into a giant blob that could explode any time. However, these statements are misplaced in this discussion as Ms. Roy’s statements would have been well suited for a “save democracy” conference rather than a “let’s break democratic principles to help certain groups achieve whatever they want” conference that this turned into.

It is not that Ms. Roy never mentioned this altogether, but again, the choice of a conference failed to bring out the real lessons that one was supposed to learn from these statements. Continuing further,

“…I want to believe that this fight is a fight for justice. Not a fight in which you pick and choose your justices—“we want justice but it’s ok if the other chap is squashed.” That’s not right. So I remember when I wrote in 2007, I said the one thing that broke my heart on the streets of Srinagar, was when I heard people say “Nanga Bhooka Hindustan, jaan se pyaara Pakistan.” I said “No. Because the Nanga Bhooka Hindustan is with you. And if you’re fighting for a just society then you must align yourselves with the powerless,” the Indian people here today are people who have spent their lives opposing the Indian state…”

Now, those were the words of wisdom that one should have taken up. But, I am not sure anyone supporting a separate Kashmir state only from India ever got what she said. That is because, there are not many in Kashmir today who are willing to be a part of the Indian masses and work towards true positive democratic change for their betterment and that of the country. What they want is just to get away from India and go to Pakistan. Lack of moral strength and action from successive Indian governments obviously didn’t help with that either.

These statements also bring out the subtle naivety that Ms. Roy exposed in her interpretation of the statement, “Nanga Bhooka Hindustan, jaan se pyaara Pakistan”, and how she then used it for her message of supporting the Nanga Bhooka Hindustanis. But, the problem is, the people shouting those slogans were not talking about the poor of India, they were talking about Indians in a poor way. More than this statement, she should have talked about the more famous slogan that was pushed into the World media and by lobbyists from our “friendly” neighboring countries in other forums to showcase the Indian oppression against the Kashmir cause, “Indian Dogs, Go Back!” By subscribing their lives to Pakistan, these activists are supporting a movement that they believe can help them from getting away from any obligations required towards holding hands with the minorities who were evicted from the valley. Now, this brings us to the other statements she made specifically about minorities,

“…We know today that this word ‘secularism’ that the Indian state flings at us is a hollow word because you can’t kill sixty-eight thousand Kashmiri Muslims and then call yourself a secular state. You cannot allow the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat and call yourself a secular state and yet you can’t then turn around and say that “we are allowed to treat our minorities badly “—…

…I think this disturbance is based on a misunderstanding, because I was beginning to talk about justice and in that conversation about justice, I was just about to say that what happened with the Kashmiri pundits is a tragedy, so I don’t know why you all started shouting, I think it’s a tragedy because when we stand here and talk about justice, it is justice for everybody, and those of us who stand here and talk about their being a place for everybody whether there’s a minority whether it’s an ethnic minority or a religious minority or minority in terms of caste, we don’t believe in majoritarianism so that’s why I was talking about the fact that everybody in Kashmir should have a very deep discussion about what kind of society you’re fighting for because Kashmir is a very diverse community and that discussion does not have to come from critics or people who are against azaadi trying to divide this struggle , it has to come from within you so it is not the place of people outside to say “they don’t know what they mean by
azaadi, do they mean Gilgit and Baltistan, what about Jammu? What about Laddakh?” These are debates that people within the state of Jammu and Kashmir are quite capable of having by themselves and I think they understand that. So, to just try and derail things by shouting at people is completely pointless because I think that people, the pundits in Kashmir, all the time I’ve spent in Kashmir, have only heard people say they are welcome back and I know people who live there, who believe that too, so all I want to say is that when we are having these political debates, I feel I have watched and have been listening to and following the recent uprising in Kashmir, the fact that unarmed people, young people armed with stones, women, even children are out on the streets facing down this massive army with guns is something that nobody in the world cannot help but salute…”

Now, here is the real frustration with what she mentioned above. Ms. Roy very confidently states that 68,000 Kashmiri Muslims were killed by Indian forces and hence challenges the claims of a secular state by India. On a similar note, once some riled up people in the audience asked what about Hindus, she had this to offer: “…I know the story of the Kashmiri pundits. I also know that the story that these Panun Kashmir pundits put out is false. However, this does not mean that injustice was not done…., I was just about to say that what happened with the Kashmiri pundits is a tragedy, so I don’t know why you all started shouting…”

Ms. Roy seems to have a very strong number when it comes to number of Kashmiri Muslims killed by Indian forces. But, in checking most media outlets, the 68000 number is that of Kashmiris killed since the problem erupted in 1989. Now, it is fair to agree that a majority of this number was of Kashmiri Muslims. But, that number could have well included the following – officially accounted for Kashmiri Hindus killed by militants in the valley with the help of Muslim sympathizers who provided the names and locations of the Hindus to be targeted, unaccounted for Kashmiri Hindus killed by militants but not added to the books as it took a while for India to militarily get back Kashmir in 1992, Kashmiri Muslim sympathizers of Hindus and Indian government who were targeted and killed by militants from Pakistan bent on creating unrest and innocent Kashmiri Muslims killed in the cross fire of violent riots where the weapons used were not just stones but more deadly tools aimed at causing damage to the Indian armed forces. Now, if the math is really done, the losses are great, tragic and deplorable. But, the reasons for the losses are not as cut and clear as Kashmiri Muslims killed just by Indian armed forces. Now, this is no justification for military excesses, but I want to make a case for the valid presentation of truth and Ms. Roy’s statements don’t do that.

Now, let’s take a look at her view on Kashmiri Hindus. Now, this is where the skeptical analysis of truth, which is a must have for an activist like her, comes up. Unfortunately, it is not for her previous number for the Muslims, but is there for the number for Hindus. Her statement about the false information provided by the Panun Kashmiris is largely about that – the sharing of numbers and the losses they incurred. Not about what those losses meant to them. Panun Kashmiris claim that 700,000 Hindus became refugees but official numbers don’t support that claim, thereby casting doubts on the intent of this ethnic Hindu group. But, from a humanitarian standpoint, this is what possibly happened. Kashmiri Hindus were targeted and killed by terrorists trained from across the borders, they were displaced and those who lived in the valley slowly left it. Those who wanted to come back were terrified enough that they will be singled out that they still preferred not to go back there. Some Hindus have taken advantage of the situation by using up government grants, but the rest hurriedly sold all their homes and assets as they didn’t have anyone to support them there. Most Muslims bought Hindu property for dirt cheap prices or occupied them for free and there is no longer a clearly recognized home for the minorities in the valley.

Now, if we need to discount realities just based on the valid claim of numbers, then, based on Ms. Roy’s not so accurate 68,000 number, there could be a dangerous group of people who can interpret the death of Kashmir Muslims as retribution for their sins and their unwillingness to cooperate with the democratic system of nation building as represented by India, but instead choosing to go with the Islamic fundamentalist doctrines of Pakistan and it’s remote control, the ISI. Just looking at these two situations helps us understand how a biased viewpoint shared as hard facts misleads the audience and can potentially lead to serious issues for the future.

Ms. Roy may have called what happened to the Hindus as a tragedy, but “tragedy” is a poor choice of word coming from someone who won a Booker for using exotic English words possibly learnt from schooling in rich Indian Christian institutions. Tragedy is what happens when someone loses their job or their limb or their limb at a job. Genocide or more likely selective mass killings based on religious hatred is what happened to the Kashmiri Hindus and the Muslims. Unfortunately, by trying to make a quick case for only the Kashmiri Muslims and quickly brushing aside the Hindu cause in a half-hearted manner, she has hurt the chances of Kashmiri Muslims getting help even from the unwanted Indian “dogs”, if not the World.

Ms. Roy however also makes a call for adherence to certain democratic principles that can potentially lead to something worthwhile for the Kashmir community. She said, “…everybody in Kashmir should have a very deep discussion about what kind of society you’re fighting for because Kashmir is a very diverse community… These are debates that people within the state of Jammu and Kashmir are quite capable of having by themselves…”

What would have been exceptionally useful would have been a discussion during that conference on how the Kashmiris, inclusive of minorities, can start that unique dialogue and public debate. Instead, the conference went into yet another attempt at bashing the Indian establishment as one speaker after the other chose to do that. Now, it is true that the Pundits are hearing people in the valley say that they are welcome to come back. But, if you talk to the Kashmiri Pundits, you will also hear them say how they were separated out and identified on the streets of Kashmir, sometimes mocked and sometimes made to feel threatened. Complicating this is the fact that Pakistan has no official policy towards stopping AK-47 wielding “freedom-fighters” in crossing a porous border. This means that Hindu minorities going back to the valley can always be woken up in the middle of the night by someone who wants to shower bullets on them! In the same way Ms. Roy said Kashmiris cannot inhale and exhale without their breath going through the barrel of an AK-47, a reference to the Kashmiri Muslims threatened under the Indian military forces.

4. Syed Ali Shah Geelani: Mr. Geelani was definitely the central character in this meeting. Apart from bringing in supporters for the Kashmiri cause, he was also instrumental in bringing in speakers from different segments of the political struggle in India and provided a forum for them to talk. This is amazing as this is the kind of public debate that is missing a lot in our country. However, Mr. Geelani’s speech was completely focused on why Kashmir is not a part of India and why it shouldn’t be a part of India. All is good with that, but why should Kashmir be a part of Pakistan? And why is Azad Kashmir or POK a part of Pakistan? None of these are discussed as the forum was definitely for pushing the dial on what can be done to garner support for a non-violent movement where in as Mr. Geelani mentioned, stones were thrown but no Indian soldier was killed. If kids are brought out and the youth is involved, it becomes an all the more interesting twist as now the onus is on the Indian military to scratch their heads and determine what can be done to prevent stones from hurting their heads. After all, stones were not being thrown to see how far they go they were thrown to bump on some soldier who wasn’t attentive enough to escape the missiles. In an age where bullets can be sprayed in a matter of seconds, we can safely believe that stones don’t cause harm maybe!
Well, the reason Mr. Geelani himself is a point of discussion is because of all the debaters looking for social justice that day, Mr. Geelani was the most misleading of them all. Those who have followed him in other press meets know that he is an open supporter of Kashmir going to Pakistan. He of course, includes the entire state of Jammu & Kashmir in that equation. Now, his speech on independence did not mention Pakistan like it is was a forbidden word that everyone secretly signed to not mention before speaking! He bemoans the fact that we have had 150 dialogues since 1992 on the Kashmir issue and it hasn’t led to anything as India fails to agree with the premise that Kashmir does not belong to India. This is a sad state of affairs as successive Indian governments for that many years have dropped the ball on having meaningful negotiations with the Kashmiri Muslims, but instead chose to have a permanent military presence to stabilize the region.
But, here is where Mr. Geelani comes out as not genuine. He has said in the past that Kashmir should be going to Pakistan as it cannot exist as an independent state even if it wants to! Now when a reporter asked why, he said that India, Pakistan and China, yes China too, were interested in Kashmir that they will just take it up. More like money left on a table. Now, not many people mention China as an interested partner in this mess, although we know that Pakistan took a part of Kashmir and then gave it to China! And yes, China does cut a check to Pakistan to keep things going in Kashmir, the same way the US also cuts a check to keep things going in Afghanistan and India cuts a check to keep things going in Tibet. Now, on the pressing question of why Pakistan; his viewpoint is that Kashmiris have dealt enough with India and don’t trust them anymore. His solution for how he will cut a deal with Pakistan is that Kashmir will remain autonomous and run its own administration but will use Pakistan only for managing security, finance and foreign policy. Well, umm, that is what India did with Kashmir, right!?
Now, what about the minorities? Well, they are welcome to come back to Kashmir. But to what kind of Kashmir will they return? It is not with no known vengeance that minority religious places were attacked or are threatened of being attacked. It is not with no known discrimination that the Kashmiri language takes a back seat with Urdu as the official language forced in all schools in the valley and it is not with no known disparity that the Muslim majority takes the larger share of jobs and seats in educational institutions. While these can be corrected by a very good leadership in independent Kashmir, precedents don’t seem to help. The fact that Mr. Geelani hardly has a clear roadmap and definition for what the independent nation of Kashmir tied in its hip to Pakistan will mean, all the stone throwing protests are merely that, stone throwing in the streets by raising voiced slogans for independence. What about Azad Kashmir or POK? What kind of Kashmir will that be once it is allowed by Pakistan to be integrated into independent Kashmir? An excerpt in Wikipedia says, the 2009 edition of the Freedom in the World (report) by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees rated Jammu and Kashmir to be partly free, while in comparison Pakistan-administered Kashmir was rated to be not free.
The ego of the Indian nation and the emotional temperament of its people will not allow a Kashmir to exist with Pakistan or even independently beyond its current autonomous status if there is no meaningful direction ahead and no meaningful public debates encouraged. Mr. Geelani should be less focused in collecting stones and sharing it with kids who don’t know what Azaadi really means, but more focused on how this debate can be made more meaningful so that his 151st or maybe 160th dialogue with India will lead to true democratic freedom for the Kashmiris, not just Muslims, not just Hindus, but even the Sikhs and Christians in that region.
5. The final closing comments: As I mentioned earlier, while your starting punch-lines define who you are for the audience, the closing comments are the call for action from the audience set up in clear, definitive terms. Here were Ms. Roy’s comments,
“…You’ve got to ask yourself—there’s more to resistance than throwing stones—these things can’t be allowed to happen—”how is the state using people?” The colonial state whether it was the British state in India or whether it’s the Indian state in Kashmir or Nagaland or in Chhattisgarh, they are in the business of creating elites to manage their occupations, so you have to know your enemy and you have to be able to respond in ways where you’re tactical, where you’re intelligent, where you’re political—internationally, locally and in every other way—you have to make your alliances, because otherwise you’ll be like fish swimming furiously around a fish tank bombing the walls and getting tired in the end because those walls are very, very strong. So I’ll just leave with this: Think about justice and don’t pick and choose your injustices. Don’t say that “I want justice but it’s ok if the next guy doesn’t have it, or the next woman doesn’t have it.” Because justice is the keystone to integrity and integrity is the key stone to real resistance.”
While Ms. Roy makes an exceptional case for prudence, substituting actionable next steps with beautiful rhetoric turns the speech into a confusing conundrum of meanings for the audience. She makes a beautiful suggestion for how we should not choose our injustices or care about justice for your own self. Again, a practical answer to that would be if Kashmiri Muslims partnered with minority groups to fight for the injustices done to the minorities and also willingly called out the double standards of not just the Indian nation but of other nations acting on the sly to further their own selfish agendas. Kashmir was always plundered historically since ages. Several military forces tried to occupy that nation during different stages of its history.
The challenge with Kashmir is that revenge or retribution will never work as that is what had happened to the region for thousands of years. Hindus were forcibly converted to Islam by rulers from the West bent on correcting “infidels” through threats of death and destruction. The Sikhs came in with their own agenda. The Muslims were persecuted by suffering in the lower end of a feudal system, the British came in with their divisive agenda, The Hindus were divided in their support for the Muslims, Sheikh Abdullah made things right for Muslims by making things wrong for the Hindus and the Indian government and Pakistan government added to the mix by playing around with their own agendas.
None of these can be used to blame one group, religion or nation against the other. Any deviation from following democratic methods of resolution will always lead to more bloodshed and misery. This is the painful story of that valley. India needs democratic reforms to support the life of its people, occupied or non-occupied. It needs for sure but needs less of intellectual superstar writers blasting nations for their complacency and calling an already battered people to take up giant nations with massive power. You make changes to those nations only through the strong pillars of democracy- reason, reform and truth- unfiltered, unbiased truth. The path forward may be painfully slow, but the wait will be worth it as it doesn’t provide short term band aids but a wholesome treatment for the problem at hand.
To take Ms. Roy’s analogy of a fish in a tank for representing the Kashmiris in India, while a fish shouldn’t keep hitting the walls of a tank as the walls are very strong, the biggest concern for a fish is to not come out of the water or not lose the water in which it is still able to swim. There will always be four walls enclosing a water body, whether it is a fish tank or an ocean. Trying to know your enemy isn’t helpful here if the enemy you consider is the four walls saving the water in which the fishes are still alive. Today it may be the fish tank of India. Tomorrow it may be that of Pakistan or that of China. Or, one day, it would be the ocean of the World. But, your enemies that you need to so intelligently be aware of are the other fishes that may try to eat you within that tank or the toxins that someone from outside puts into that tank. The beauty of peaceful democratic coexistence comes from not drilling a hole in the tank but from figuring a way to enjoy the resources available for you within that tank and making amendments if needed to the rules of existence in that tank. As who knows, the other tanks or ocean you want to so eagerly escape to or create on your own may have more fundamentalist sharks or dictatorial whales that you may not survive even a day in if you don’t have an agenda for how the fishes will live in your tank to begin with. You don’t fight to get a separate tank only to end up being the only fish left in it.

0Shares

Recent Developments In Taxation Law Agreements Between India And Switzerland

Recently, India entered into a revised double taxation avoidance agreement with Switzerland. A debate ensued in the Lok Sabha with leaders such as L.K. Advani asking for clarification on what benefits the agreement will truly provide to India. The terms of the agreement are confusing indeed and there is no clear sense of the benefits that such an agreement will provide to the country. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee however made it clear that this treaty will not help India in getting back any black money stashed away by Indians in secret bank accounts nor would it expose details of the account holders. According to Mukherjee, Swiss Laws are very strict and the banks don’t give any information of their banking transactions. Moreover, the only information obtained cannot be publicly disclosed and can be used only for taxation purposes. In other words, it is not meant to recover any black money.

According to the influential Swiss Bankers Association, India has roughly about $1.5 trillion of black money deposited in Swiss banks. India has more black money than the rest of the world and is equivalent to one year of India’s GDP. This is a tremendous amount of money that when utilized for the right purposes in India can educate children, fund much needed infrastructure projects and remove the majority of poverty in the nation over the next 15-30 years. Ram Jethmalani has been a recent advocate of the need to retrieve black money deposited by Indians in Swiss Banks. “A staggering $1500 billion Indian money has been stashed away in Swiss banks. If it is retrieved, each Indian family will get Rs 2.5 lakh each. India will have a debt-free budget for 30 years and all our external debt will be wiped out,” Jethmalani told a seminar organized by the Telangana Advocates Joint Action Committee, making a case for why regional differences would no longer matter when prosperity exists in the nation.

However, there are certain realities to consider in the background of this agreement, which even if not historical, is a significant step made in the right direction. Given the challenge with Swiss laws and the Indian political, legal and economic establishment, recovery of black money in part or in its entirety is not feasible. Swiss banks are not the only holders of India’s black money. A parallel economy has existed in this country over the past 50 years and inflexible taxation laws have led to Indians stocking large amounts of unaccounted money. This was also fueled by the existence of the License Raj in India until its slow demise in the early 1990s. Several countries including the US and Germany have been pushing Swiss banks for access to their citizen’s accounts for years together through several lawsuits and political pressure. However, all those efforts have only resulted in one success just for the US government. UBS, the second largest Swiss bank, agreed to hand over account details of about 4,450 tax evaders to US authorities out of a total request for account details of 52,000 clients.

Even without any effort at retrieval of existing black money, if we can stop the bloodletting by preventing further black money from flowing out, the benefits to the country are significant. Say, a wealthy person deposits Rs. 10 crores in black money (about US $2 million) in a Swiss bank. That money through the banking system will eventually fund and fuel the Swiss economy by providing its local governments and corporations with unprecedented access to investor money. The Indian economy on the other hand is sitting to lose not only that investment potential but also 30% of that amount (at least in taxes) or the equivalent of Rs 3 crore. It is anyone’s guess that such money could be used to fund huge development projects in the country to truly alleviate “materialistic” poverty.

Swiss bank laws support a very strong secrecy pact that in effect prevents anyone not authorized by the account holder from accessing account details. This applies even to governments seeking information on any suspected individuals. The reasoning as one Swiss official put it in a NPR radio interview several months back is to protect the privacy of the account holder and the safety of his assets. This has been evangelized over the years by the Swiss government and still continues to be their selling point. The Swiss laws make a glaring distinction on legal grounds between tax avoidance and tax fraud or evasion. The Swiss government agrees to cooperate willingly on tax fraud issues but not on tax avoidance. Understanding the difference between these largely similar terms is baked in technical language that is difficult to easily comprehend. The challenge that several countries including India face is that there is a lot of evidence needed to build a tax fraud case. That evidence is in turn already hidden in the bank asset details of a citizen under investigation. In other words, to request bank account details of India’s citizens, the government needs to build a case for evidence of tax fraud. However, to make an effective case for tax fraud, you need the bank account details of these citizens. Hence, a never ending loop is created and the ability to generate any viable results in favor of the country requesting bank account information may come only through a miracle of legal maneuvering or political hardballing. This is where the recent amendments to the DTAA with the Swiss government still continue to pose a major challenge to India if it truly wishes to retrieve black money and redirect it for the benefit of its people.

The irony of this situation lies in the fact that except for reasons of tax evasion or fraud, there is no other reason a person from developing nations such as India would stock money in a Swiss bank. India’s large population of the poor and middle class societies may never have visited or even heard of such banks. Even with the globalization of the banking sector in the recent past, Swiss banks don’t dominate the banking landscape of the country, although some American banks do. It is India’s minority network of politicians, bureaucrats, celebrities and other rich members who have the means and maybe the will to utilize these banking services. Populist taxation measures not built on true economic benefits for the nation but at the same time targeting the wealthy also seem to serve as a motivation for this section of the society to preserve its assets in other forms detrimental to the nation’s growth. Also, when it comes to safety of assets, most well established banks provide enough safety measures to protect the assets of its clients that this cannot be the motivating factor for someone seeking to transact with Swiss banks.

So, even though the merits for someone to save assets in a Swiss bank is not convincing enough to term it as a non issue, the means to get to money moving out of the country is not bright either. In the years to come, the hope is that the DTAA and other tax agreement measures are continuously improved so that its true purpose in preventing and redirecting black money to the mothership country is well served. Also to be considered is the ability to build taxation laws that are not complex, not populist and not cumbersome to comply with. In today’s age of globalization, assets move between countries at a very fast pace. The ability for India’s banking infrastructure to effectively participate in this global effort is important to sustain the long term potential of the country to renounce the parallel economy and participate in the country’s growth forward. The amendments to the DTAA may be a misdirected step in one opinion or a small step forward in another opinion, but it takes the collective will of several entities in India to address the root cause of it.

0Shares

The Ethics of Swiss Bank Secrecy Laws

Recently, the Swiss Bank firm UBS was directed by the US Justice department to give access to some of its customers who “used” the Swiss Bank secrecy laws in hiding billions of assets, thereby evading taxes. This was followed by another lawsuit filed by the US in Miami asking for bank information on 52000 US customers who could have potentially stashed away billions of dollars from the eyes of the IRS.
This is however nothing new for US lawmakers. In the 80s, during the height of the Wall Street insider trading days, Swiss bank accounts in safe havens like the Caribbean Islands served as popular destinations for hiding millions of dollars swindled by greedy Wall Street traders. The SEC during its investigations struggled hard in accessing the details of these account holders as the banks were unwilling to cooperate. Although, they eventually succeeded in arm twisting some banks to comply, we never know how many got unnoticed.
Swiss bank laws support a very strong secrecy pact that in effect prevents anyone not authorized by the account holder, from accessing account details. This applies even to governments seeking information on any suspected individuals. The reasoning as one Swiss official put it in a NPR radio interview is to protect the privacy of the account holder and the safety of his assets. This has been evangelized over the years by the Swiss government and still continues to be their selling point. However, I think this is one among the many bad aspects of nations that can deviate from ethics as long as money flows into their pockets. Unfortunately, Switzerland is considered as one among the most “developed” nations in this world while they have virtually created a scheme to attract “bad” money from greedy people around the world.
There is enough information in the internet talking about the kind of people that Swiss banks attract. On the contrary, Swiss banks have also come up with how clean their customers are and the controversy around their practices. Swiss banks have come a long way in better monitoring their operations and the background of their customers. Unfortunately, this only came about after all the pressure generated by other nations in exposing their banking practices over the past 40 years.
Unfortunately, the banks have not realized the ethics of their practices from a human perspective. When Swiss laws do not act immediately on tax avoidance but only on tax fraud issues, this just becomes a greedy game of money laundering. For example, if a celebrity client from a “developing” nation deposits $10 MM in a Swiss bank account, he could possibly be doing it without the knowledge of the local government’s tax department. There could be no other reason why someone would put huge sums of money into a foreign bank. The argument that these banks provide a greater return cannot be true as they are mostly comparable to other banks in the world. “Secrecy” in maintaining a bank account is desirable only when you don’t want a greater authority to know what you are doing with your money or from where you are getting it. Any other kind of privacy or secrecy is provided even by a rural bank in a struggling “developing” nation.
By making a glaring distinction on legal grounds between tax avoidance and tax fraud, this country had been largely benefiting itself and rapidly growing it’s economy by attracting money from abroad. Although proponents of capitalism have legally and morally justified human greed, they have not figured a way to identify the limits of ethical behavior. If a celebrity in India deposits 10 crores in Indian currency (which is easy for them to earn in a year), an equivalent of $2MM dollars is being deposited in a Swiss bank. That money through the banking system will eventually reach Wall Street or fund bonds offered by a Swiss global corporation. The Indian government on the other hand is sitting to lose 30% of that amount (given the high tax rate the government charges due to its inability to raise money through other resources) or the equivalent of $600K, which in Indian currency is a respectable sum.
Less than 5% of the country pays taxes in the first place. Even with an insensible government in place, $600K can be used to fund huge infrastructure projects in the country to truly alleviate “materialistic” poverty. Swiss bank accounts are hardly opened by a middle class person in any “developing” nation. I don’t even believe any ordinary person will go out of the way to deposit a few 1000 dollars in such banks. By having countries act like safe havens for rich tax evaders (or avoiders), these banks are severly violating the ethics of human behavior that would be so well expected from a nation that belongs to a World group that recommends how other countries should run their lives. It is time Swiss banks stop this so called secrecy pratice and actually promote a more open banking system that benefits the entire World in moving forward.
0Shares