Corporate rule violates the principles of sovereignty and self-rule – Vandana Shiva

Vandana Shiva“Corporate rule violates the principles of swaraj, sovereignty and self-rule. In the name of removing hunger and poverty, it pushes us deeper into poverty. Today, an American biotechnology corporation like Monsanto would like to rule us by taking control of our seed supply….  Corporations like Pepsi, Coke, Kellogg’s and Nestlé would like to rule us through imposing … junk food by changing our food safety laws, … criminalising the diversity of our foods by making local indigenous, artisanal foods illegal. Corporations like Wal-Mart would like to rule us by destroying our retail democracy, which creates livelihood for 50 million people and brings fresh, diverse food to our doorstep…. Controlling what grows means seizing control of life, which in turn means that life is Monsanto’s invention, not nature’s.” – Dr Vandana Shiva

Narendra Modi's Ganga PujaSwaraj, freedom, was one of the most frequently used terms in the campaign for 2014 general elections. During his speech on the ghats of the Ganga, expressing gratitude to the people of Varanasi for his massive victory, Prime Minister Narendra Modi committed himself to governance based on Mahatma Gandhi’s principles.

The five-year term of the newly elected government will end in 2019 — which will also be Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary year. So we have a compass and a time frame to undertake our national journey over the next five years guided by swaraj.

Swaraj defined our freedom movement — it encompassed not just political freedom, but also economic freedom. For me, Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj is the best book on real freedom and it has become even more relevant in the search for freedom in times of corporate rule (also referred to as corporate globalisation and neoliberal economic reform).

Gandhi wrote Hind Swaraj in 1908, more than 100 years ago, on his way to South Africa from England. It was first published in the columns of Indian Opinion newspaper in South Africa. In the book’s 1921 edition, he added a word of explanation, and wrote: “In my opinion it is a book which can be put into the hands of a child…. It teaches the gospel of love in place of that of hate. It replaces violence with self-sacrifice. It puts soul force against brute force….”

For Gandhi, civilisation was “that mode of conduct which points out to humans the path of duty,” i.e. the right to livelihood. And it was on this concept of right to livelihood that Gandhi defined freedom: “It is swaraj when we learn to rule ourselves.”

I was happy to see that Mr Modi reminded us that our civilisation is founded on the concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the earth as family) in contrast to the idea of man’s empire over the earth. This theory has dominated the colonising West and Western paradigms that solely consider gross domestic product as the measure of “growth”.

M. K. Gandhi in 1929Gandhi said: “India should develop by using its ethos, which is essentially spiritual and which perceives unity, reverence for nature and a prayer for the welfare of all mankind.”

Mr Modi also reminded us that “Swami Vivekananda had cautioned us a century ago that ‘if we give up our spirituality, leaving it aside to go after the materialising civilisation of the West, the foundation on which the national edifice has been built will be undermined.’”

Corporate rule violates the principles of swaraj, sovereignty and self-rule. In the name of removing hunger and poverty, it pushes us deeper into poverty. Today, American biotechnology corporation like Monsanto would like to rule us by taking control of our seed supply and imposing GMO seeds, chemical and industrial agriculture in the name of the second Green Revolution. Corporations like Pepsi, Coke, Kellogg’s, Nestlé, etc. would like to rule us through imposing processed and junk food by changing our food safety laws, imposing the Food Safety and Standards Act (FSSA), criminalising the diversity of our foods by making local indigenous, artisanal foods illegal. Corporations like Wal-Mart would like to rule us by destroying our retail democracy, which creates livelihood for 50 million people and brings fresh, diverse food to our doorstep. Monsanto’s empire is based on seed patents. Controlling what grows means seizing control of life, which in turn means that life is Monsanto’s invention, not nature’s.

Our farmers are paying the price for corporate greed through their very lives — debt for costly seeds and chemicals is the root cause of 284,000 farmers’ suicide in India since 1995. The solution to farmers’ suicide is to promote GMO free, patent free organic agriculture based on beej and anna swaraj (seed and food freedom). Mr Modi has also supported organic farming, which is GMO free, chemical free farming.

The problem with “materialist” development is not just that it ignores spiritual values, but that it fails to take into account the health of the planet and the wellbeing of people. As Gandhi said, “Let us first consider what state of things is described by the word ‘civilisation’. Its true test lies in the fact that people living in it make bodily welfare the object of life.”

MonsantoFood and agriculture is an area where we can clearly see the failure of industrial agriculture models imposed by the West in providing “bodily comforts”. The so-called “modern” food and agriculture system, based on chemicals and GMOs pushed by global corporations, is a toxic food system — from the seed to our stomachs. While it is promoted as a solution to hunger, it is responsible for 75 per cent of all ecological and health problems globally. Hunger, malnutrition, obesity, diabetes, allergies, cancers and neurological problems are built into this greed driven, toxic food system. While it destroys the real economy of nature and people’s healths and livelihoods, the GDP grows. The more Monsanto sells GMO-patented seeds, the more the economy grows. With the introduction of Monsanto’s Bt cotton seeds, seed costs Coca Cola in Indiajumped 8,000 per cent. Every year royalty worth thousands of crores of rupees leaves the country for seeds, something in which we should be sovereign. This sort of economic growth does not take into account the drain due to royalty payments for GMO seeds, farmers’ suicides and the death of pollinators and soil organisms. The more people are affected by cancer and kidney failure because of poison in our food, the more the economy grows. The inappropriateness of GDP as a measure of wellbeing of people became evident when recently Britain said it would include prostitution and illegal drugs in its official national accounts for the first time. Prostitutes and drug dealers are set to give Britain a £10bn boost as the country revamps the way it measures its economy.

The manipulation of life through genetic engineering, and of the economy through GDP is not serving the higher purpose of living on the principles of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam and swaraj. It is time to evolve a development model according to our ethos, for the wellbeing of all life and all people. – The Asian Age, 25 June 2014

» Dr Vandana Shiva’s website is here.  She is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust

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Rationality, not nationality, is the need of the hour – Koenraad Elst

Koenraad Elst“If the secularists didn’t control the bottleneck of information on India, the West would be far less anti-Narendra Modi. Without a constant stream of anti-Modi propaganda, … you will see the West turn business-like towards Narendra Modi soon enough. Like the East India Company of the early years, the West only sees India in business terms, and a thriving India, meaning Narendra Modi and not Rahul or Kejriwal, might actually be good for the world economy including the West.” – Dr Koenraad Elst

Narendra ModiTime and again, also after Narendra Modi’s historic election victory, we see a correct pro-Hindu message take an erroneous nationalist turn which detracts from its original pro-Hindu intention. This is precisely how the Nehruvians want it: they have always tried to channel the Hindu energies towards an anachronistic anti-Britishism, sometimes transformed into an anti-Americanism, and far too many Hindus have merrily taken the bait.

The occasion is the Indians (repeat: Indians) appearing on Western TV stations or in Western newspapers to send an anti-Modi and anti-Hindu message. Instead of taking that message on, some Hindus change it in their imagination towards a neo-colonial message, bringing in Sonia Gandhi as the reason why a Western TV station would broadcast this anti-Modi message. The West is said to dislike Narendr Modi because he is an antipode to Sonia Gandhi.

Well, I am a Westerner, live in the West and follow a broad scala of Western media, and I can say with a 100% certainty that the Western anti-Modi sympathies have nothing whatsoever to do with the person and provenance of Sonia Gandhi, much less with being anti-native.

Was Manmohan Singh any less native? Is Arvind Kejriwal more foreign than Modi? For anti-Modi Indians and for their Western dupes, Narendra Modi is not insufferable because he is native (so were most preferred alternatives) but because he is seriously pro-Hindu.

For the umpteenth time, I catch Hindu activists in the act of living in an imaginary world, an anachronistic worldview where the political equations and the nationalist high ground of the colonial age still prevail. Even at this auspicious hour, the chance of a lifetime, but with battles ahead, I can see Hindus charting a purely imaginary topography for their Kurukshetra. They are preparing for an imaginary battle, and meanwhile setting themselves up for yet another defeat in the real world.

It is not that anyone minds Hindu spokesmen being anti-white. We are so used to it that it only evokes a yawn. Of course, anti-white rhetoric has bad connotations by now: any African dictator who has his own failed policies to defend, will blame his failure on “white” machinations and the heritage of colonialism. As this is dead since more than a half-century, it becomes more and more anachronistic, but it is still tried. So we associate anti-white rhetoric with evil and failure, but otherwise we are quite numb when we hear it.

Indians who vent anti-white rhetoric think themselves as very brave, for they are actually doling out a kick to the long-dead horse of white colonialism. Hear that, Mr. Viceroy! But far from being brave, they are Don Quixotes attacking imaginary foes all while leaving the real foes in peace.

The wrong thing with anti-white rhetoric must not be understood in moralistic terms; “anti-white racism” or so. The bad thing about it is that it shows how Hindu activists are still not ready for victory in the real world. In their imaginary world, the West is plotting against India and using the secularists and minorities as sepoys. In the real world, the West is only modestly interested in India, but is being turned anti-Modi by the Indian secularists and the minorities (some of which are but the Indian franchise of multinationals, esp. the Christian and Islamic communities).

If the secularists didn’t control the bottleneck of information on India, the West would be far less anti-Narendra Modi. Without a constant stream of anti-Modi propaganda (for which the Indian anti-Modi forces might engineer communal riots), you will see the West turn business-like towards Narendra Modi soon enough. Like the East India Company of the early years, the West only sees India in business terms, and a thriving India, meaning Narendra Modi and not Rahul or Kejriwal, might actually be good for the world economy including the West.

Another very recent remark was from a Hindu who hoped that the Christian Churches in India would transform themselves into an “authentic Indian Church”. Ah, so the problem is that the Churches are not sufficiently “Indian”? And an authentic Church will be less interested in converting the Hindus?

Naïve Hindus seem to think that the mission is a ploy by foreign nations. In reality, Christianity uses nations until they lose power, then it crosses the floor to whatever new power comes next. If India becomes powerful, the missionaries will become great patriots — and all the more eager to convert India. So, thinking in term of “national” vs. “foreign” is a sure way to misconceive the problems Hinduism faces.

Nationalism is a misstatement of Hindu concerns.  – India Facts, 31 May 2014

» Koenraad Elst distinguished himself early on as eager to learn and to dissent. He studied at the KU Leuven, obtaining MA degrees in Sinology, Indology and Philosophy. After a research stay at Benares Hindu University he did original fieldwork for a doctorate on Hindu nationalism, which he obtained magna cum laude in 1998. As an independent researcher he earned laurels and ostracism with his findings on hot items like Islam, multiculturalism and the secular state, the roots of Indo-European, the Ayodhya temple/mosque dispute and Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy. He blogs at http://koenraadelst.blogspot.in/

 

The real clash is within civilizations – Frank Furedi

Frank FurediThis is a review of the book The Clash of Civilisations? The Debate: Twentieth Anniversary Edition published by Foreign Affairs magazine. – Editor

The aim of this slim volume of essays, The Clash of Civilisations? The Debate: Twentieth Anniversary Edition, is to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of Samuel Huntington’s controversial article, “The clash of civilisations.” It republishes the original article as well as essays authored by critics of Huntington’s thesis.

When the article was first published in the Summer 1993 issue of the journal Foreign Affairs, it was dismissed by many critics. They argued that Huntington not only failed to capture prevailing global trends but that he was also far too pessimistic about the future prospects for Western civilisation. In the aftermath of 9/11, attitudes towards Huntington’s article changed, especially in the United States. It is not difficult to see why: after the destruction of the World Trade Center, Huntington’s vision of a civilisational conflict suddenly appeared to offer an astute interpretation of the dynamic which was to underpin the ‘war on terror’.

Prof. Samuel P. HuntingtonHowever one views Huntington’s 1993 essay, there’s no doubting that it touched a raw nerve. His main thesis was that after the end of the Cold War, the world had entered a radically different era. He predicted that global conflicts would no longer be motivated by ideological or economic concerns, but by cultural ones. His argument was clear:

It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilisations.”

The Clash of Civilisations? The Debate: Twentieth Anniversary EditionThe main strength of this thesis was to draw attention to the decoupling of ideological factors from global conflict. This was difficult for many to accept after decades of ideologically driven struggles, domestic and international. Yet Huntington’s focus on struggles between cultures did capture an important dynamic at work in the late twentieth century. He was right, for instance, to point out the significance of culture as a medium for the expression of conflict.

But his assertion that such conflicts will assume the form of civilisational clashes was misguided. Aside from the dubious status of civilisational narratives, it is clear that the defining feature of the contemporary world is that these divisions exist within society itself. When Huntington claimed that “civilisational identities will replace all other identities,” he appeared to overlook the fact that such identities are constantly contested within a civilisation itself. One possible reason why Huntington focused on civilisational struggles, and particularly on the theme of the “West versus the Rest,” was the difficulty he and members of the Western political elites have in openly acknowledging the depth of the cultural divisions within their own society, particularly in the US. There is a perceptible tendency—especially on the part of anti-traditionalist and anti-conservative commentators—to minimise the issues at stake in the so-called Culture Wars. The title of one such sceptic’s tome—Culture War? The myth of a polarised America—vividly expresses this orientation.

In his response to his critics, “If not civilisations, what?,” Huntington sought to strengthen his argument by pointing to the cultural divisions within his own society: he called attention to the increasing tendency within America to question the traditional representation of the American way of life; he wrote of a movement of ‘intellectuals and politicians’ who promote the “ideology of ‘multiculturalism‘” and who “insist on the rewriting of American political, social, and literary history from the viewpoint of non-European groups;” he pointed to what he called the possible “de-Westernisation of the United States’, and asked whether this will ‘also mean its de-Americanisation.”

Multi-ethnic GroupHe was clearly exercised by the disintegration of the idea of an American Way Of Life. And he was clearly concerned by the potentially destructive consequences of the Culture Wars for the values he himself held dear. However, like many of his colleagues, he found it difficult actually to engage with what he calls the “internal clash of civilisations.” Hence he was far more comfortable externalising his concerns by focusing on the alleged threat from Confucian, Islamic and other civilisations. On closer examination, Huntington’s focus on the clash of civilisations starts to appear as an act of displacement, a means to avoid confronting his real problem: the internal clash of civilisations.

The face of multicultural America.So what is going on?

If Huntington had more deeply probed the dynamics of what he called the internal clash of civilisations, it would have been evident that these disputes are fuelled by ideas and values that are integral to the same civilisation—that of the West. Multiculturalism, cultural relativism, anti-foundationalism, the counter-culture and the therapeutic imagination are not the products of Islamic fundamentalist teaching or Confucian philosophy. Rather, this contestation of the cultural authority of the Enlightenment and of classical liberal democracy has emerged from within the soul of Western capitalism itself.

Societies that are divided about the values that constitute a way of life are unlikely to unify around wider civilisational values. Instead of representing global conflicts as civilisational clashes, it makes more sense to see them as, in part, the externalised manifestation of cultural tension immanent within capitalist society. As I have noted elsewhere, the phenomenon of home-grown terrorism, and the estrangement of a significant number of Muslims from the society they inhabit, points to the domestic source of some of the wider global conflicts. The rhetoric of civilisational conflict actually serves to distract attention from the crisis of elite authority on the home front.

Anti-Americanism and contempt for aspects of the so-called Western way of life exercise widespread influence in many European countries. These sentiments are most systematically expressed through cultural critiques of consumerism, capitalist selfishness, greed and ambition. Ideas that denounce Western arrogance and its belief in science and progress are actually generated from within the societies of Europe and America. As the author of the book Suicide of the West noted, the crisis of the West “is internally generated: it lies in Western heads.” Sadly, far too many people can only make sense of a problem of their own making when it assumes the form of an exotic threat from abroad.

Prof. Kishore MahbubaniWhat this collection of essays lacks is any serious interrogation of the Huntington thesis. The one essay in this collection that recognises the true, internal locus of the conflict of culture is “The Dangers of Decadence: What the rest can teach the West,” by Kishore Mahbubani. Mahbubani rightly draws attention to the cultural ‘hubris’ within the West, which is responsible for its disorientation. But he mistakenly attributes the problem of the West’s own undoing to its excessive commitment to individual freedom and democracy. Writing from an essentially illiberal and anti-democratic standpoint, Mahbubani—like many of his intellectual predecessors—blames the forces of cultural decadence.

A critique of Huntington which recognises his focus on the cultural dynamic of conflict, but which avoids the simplistic narrative of the clash of civilisations, is still in search of an author. – Spiked, 20 September 2013

» The Clash of Civilisations? The Debate: 20th Anniversary Edition, edited by Gideon Rose, is published by Foreign Affairs Magazine.

» Frank Furedi is a sociologist and author of Culture of Fear, Where Have All The Intellectuals Gone? and On Tolerance: In Defence of Moral Independence. Visit his website here.

Do the poor need psychiatric help? Or does Rahul Gandhi? – A Mango Indian

Mango People!“So, Mr Gandhi, when even the most basic form of enterprise depends on bribing the police and/or protection from the ruling class, when basic health care is unaffordable even for the lower middle class what good is your self-confidence?” – A Mango Indian

Rahul Gandhi“Poverty is just a state of mind. It does not mean the scarcity of food, money or material things. If one possesses self-confidence, then one can overcome poverty.”

These glorious words were uttered, as per the Press Trust of India, by Rahul Gandhi. The Congress’s prince in waiting was participating in a discourse in Allahabad on “Culture, Deepening Democracy and Most Marginalised Communities,” organised by social scientist Badri Narayan.

Maybe the same brief — that poverty is just a state of mind — was given to the Planning Commission too? Only that can explain the poverty line being drawn at Rs 32.26 a person a day in the cities and Rs 26.32 in the villages.

Planning Commission member Mihir Shah, in an op-ed piece in The Hindu, argued that the poverty line is just jargon: ‘All that is being done is to provide an estimate … that allows one to compare the number of people below a certain consumption level (aka poverty line) in 1993-94, 2004-05 and 2011-12. Nothing more, nothing less,’ he wrote.  

But no one in their right state of mind — except Raj ‘Rs-12-a-meal’ Babbar and his ilk – can disagree that the poverty line seems drawn in only one state of mind: To inflate the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government’s poverty-alleviation figures.

Modi's youth support base is huge.This is election season so silly statements, we mango Indians understand, are par for the course. Narendra Modi tweets ‘intolerance’ when Congress goons shut down a Mumbai eatery that made fun of the UPA government in its printed receipts, conveniently ignoring that a satirical Web site mocking him,  www.narendramodiplans.com, had to shut down within a day of it going viral (it is now back up, with a disclaimer that a different bunch of people have taken it over).

But even in this season of political-peeing-on-lampposts, Rahul Gandhi’s statement takes the cake (with due apologies to another astute observer of poverty, the much late Marie Antoinette).

Do India’s poor need psychiatric help? Or does Rahul Gandhi?

“My one and only political aim,” Gandhi added at the same Allahabad event, “is that I want to tune my ears to the voice of the poor and the marginalised.”

Well, here’s a tuning key then, Mr Gandhi; ignore the meal costs being dished out by your sycophants, and read this blog by Vijay Simhajournalist-turned-counsellor Vijay Simha.

Simha, a fine journalist — rendered a pauper by a crippling addiction — who spent nine months on the streets of Delhi, lists what poverty does: Erosion of self-esteem and ambition, destruction of childhoods and families, living in a state of denial and sloth, and so on. This to a highly educated, aware person.

Imagine what it does to an uneducated family that has no hope of bettering its condition. Imagine what it does to a child whose farmer father has committed suicide. 

Imagine what it does to the village labourer who leaves his life behind to be part of the glitzy urban India, only to find that he is unwelcome in his own country.

The Congress’s spin maestros are screaming from desktops — somebody give them a chance in the Australian cricket team, please, since Dhoni’s boys are doing okay at the moment — that Rahul Gandhi’s remarks have been taken out of context. That he was speaking of self-help groups’ role in bettering lives.

Street vendor dies during police raid.Rahul Gandhi is fond of peppering his speeches, Barack Obama style, with anecdotal evidence. Well here are two for him (Gandhi, that is, not Obama).

In India’s financial capital Mumbai, a woman set up a food stall in front of an office building. She was shooed away by the cops. Next day, she got a canopy umbrella bearing the name of a local strongman legislator. She did business happily ever after.

In the same city, a taxi driver was diagnosed with kidney stones. He could not possibly afford the surgery, so he went to a ‘Paththari Baba’ in Baroda, who claims to extract kidney stones with his bare hands.

So, Mr Gandhi, when even the most basic form of enterprise depends on bribing the police and/or protection from the ruling class, when basic health care is unaffordable even for the lower middle class — who knows, Planning Commission jargon might even classify a cabbie as ‘rich’ — what good is your self-confidence?

The economists Amartya Sen and Jagdish Bhagwati may be squabbling over how best to develop India, but even they agree on something — that India’s development record is abysmal. That the India Shining story is still as much a lie as when Rahul Gandhi’s party reaped the benefits of that slogan in 2004.

Jharkhand tribal girls win football cup in SpainWhat has your government done, Rahul Gandhi? 

Established an Aadhar card for billions of rupees that is already being misused? 

Enacted a rural employment guarantee law that is already being used as a tool to siphon off money meant for the poor?

Self-confidence can do wonders. Like the tribal girls who fought all odds to come up third in the Gasteiz Cup football tournament in Spain.

But that is when there is a level playing field. And that is what India’s poor need, Mr Gandhi — a level playing field where enterprise and hard work is rewarded; where development means more than malls in a handful of cities; where worse-than sub-Saharan-malnutrition does not coexist with beyond-first-world lifestyles. 

What they don’t need is psychiatric help. Or your patronising attitude. – Rediff.com, 6 August 2013

 

Food Security Bill: Pro-poor or pro-poverty – Chetan Bhagat

Chetan Bhagat“The government will not spend on productive assets … and we will never have good infrastructure, schools or hospitals. So what? At least we care for poor people. We`ll keep caring for poor people until our money totally runs out, the nation gets bankrupt, inflation is out of control and there are no more jobs.” – Chetan Bhagat

Value of the RupeePoverty is a terrible thing. There are few things as demeaning to a human being as not having the means to fulfil his basic needs in life.

India is one of the poverty havens of the world. We have all heard of India’s teeming millions, probably since childhood. While one could blame the British for all our mistakes pre-1947, it has been almost 67 years since they left. We are still one of the poorest nations on earth. Many countries in Asia, which started with similar poverty levels in the 1940s, have progressed faster — some of them dramatically. We, however, remain poor.

The continuance of poverty is particularly surprising because there are so many smart and powerful people who claim to be representing the poor. Politicians, academics, poverty economists, NGOs — there are so many people trying to help the poor. It is baffling, then, why we can’t seem to get rid of poverty. Our public debates are virtually controlled by left-leaning intellectuals, who are some of the most pro-poor people on earth. And yet, they seem to be getting nowhere.

Well, they won’t. Because while they may be experts on the poor and their suffering, they have little idea about the one thing that eventually removes poverty — money. Yes, it is over-simplistic, but it is perplexing how little our top thinkers and debate-controllers know about wealth creation, true economic empowerment, productivity and competitiveness. For, if they did, they would not support one of the most hare-brained schemes to have ever come out of our illusionist politicians’ hat — the food security Bill.

It is a tough Bill to write against. The fashionably left, almost communist, intellectual mafia will almost kill you. The subject is sensitive. You may argue that the numbers just don’t add up — that we will ruin our already fragile economy further if we do this. The retort will be ‘at least a poor mother will see her child sleep peace-fully at night on a full stomach’.

Try arguing with that! You may see financial ruin for the nation, but how will your data-filled presentation ever compete with the picture of a malnourished hungry child in an Indian village. You can’t. I submit all economics, basic arithmetic, common sense, rationality, practicality fails when someone confronts you with ‘so basically you don’t want to help the poor, right?’

Sonia-G's Food Security Bill Nobody does not want to help the poor. Nevertheless, after being labelled anti-poor, you will be labelled an MNC-favouring, FDI-obsessed capitalist. Stay long enough; you will be branded right-wing, perhaps with a ‘communalist’ slur added too. Welcome to India where one doesn’t debate on reason. We debate on emotions, moral one-upmanship and attacking the debater rather than the argument.

Therefore, like any sane, self-preserving individual, I’d say my official line on the un-opposable Bill is this: Bring on the food security Bill. In fact, I propose a better Bill. Why just two-thirds of India, let’s extend free grains to the entire country. Moreover, why not some vegetables and fruit too? And don’t poor kids deserve fresh milk? We should provide that too. If the debate is going to be won by the guy with the noblest intention, then I am going to make sure I am the one.

Every Indian family must get grain, fruit, vegetables, milk and whatever else it takes to have a healthy balanced diet. It should be free. There, am I not the good guy now?

When irritating questions pop up in my head on who will pay for it, or how will so many commodities be secured, or how will the already debt-ridden government finances look after this, I will tell my mind to shut up. I’ll avoid looking at the astronomical bill (lakhs of crores over just the next few years). If I feel this money could be used to transform rural education, irrigation or road networks, which would make our poor empowered, employable and richer, I will scold myself for thinking with my brain.

It is not important to remove poverty. It is only important to come across as a person who cares for poor people. And I do, more than you. That is why my Bill has fruit and vegetables. Does yours? So what if our fiscal deficit swells, the rating agencies downgrade us to junk credit and foreign investors stop investing in our country? We don’t need them. They are all our enemies anyway.

Sonia-G's Food Security BillThe government will not spend on productive assets, we’ll scare the foreigners away and we will never have good infrastructure, schools or hospitals. So what? At least we care for poor people. We`ll keep caring for poor people until our money totally runs out, the nation gets bankrupt, inflation is out of control and there are no more jobs.

Of course, that means far more people will be poorer than from where we started. But isn’t that a good thing? After all, it gives us a chance to care for even more people. So, bring on my Food, Fruits, Vegetables and Milk Security Bill. Did I miss something in that? Oh yes, nuts. We do need nuts. Some nuts for all Indians, please. You know the kind of nuts I am talking about, right? – Times of India, 12 July 2013

» Chetan Bhagat is a best-selling novelist.

Sonia-G & Manmohan Singh seek asylum abroad after 2014 elections.

The Himalayas and the Sacredness of Nature – Swati Chopra

Ganga Devi

Swati-ChopraWatching the horrific devastation in Uttarakhand, I was reminded of my visit to Badrinath and Kedarnath some 25 or so years ago. There was nowhere the kind and scale of construction that seemed to have sprung up of late, and the numbers of pilgrims were in hundreds, not thousands.

An understanding of the man-made aspect of the tragedy is growing, of how rampant destruction of forests and the Himalayan ecosystem in and around the pilgrimage spots might have magnified the impact of the natural disaster.

That this should happen at sacred sites associated with a religion and a way of life that has an eco-spiritual perspective inbuilt in so many of its traditions is cause for concern. It is a warning that in following the form of ritualised religion, we might have forgotten its spirit. That we might still worship a river or a mountain with flowers and incense, but have become blind to the impact our presence there is having on those very objects of our veneration. That we might chant mantras extolling the elements, but think nothing of polluting them with waste, plastic and toxic fumes. That we might be relating with religion as another consumable material, without bothering to understand its deeper underpinnings.

Ganga's Descent: Image from "Myths of the Hindus & Buddhists" by Sister Nivedita & Ananda K. Coomaraswamy (1914). Click image for book.When we lived closer to nature, and not in the urban concrete jungles of today, perhaps it was easier to evoke and feel a respectful awe for natural phenomena. A river was not just a river. She was a mega-mother, a goddess, who nurtured centuries of civilisation along her banks. She not only fed us but also received our ashes when we died, as a portal of transmigration. She was not to be messed with but propitiated. Most importantly, she was not an object to be consumed for our comfort.

In the hills of Uttarakhand, for centuries people have worshipped mountains, trees, boulders, glades and knolls as abodes of spirits, some benevolent, others malevolent. Some kinds of trees would never be cut, and if they needed to, the act would be preceded by days of pujas to ask its permission. When I see the mindless destruction of forests and nature that the age of science and reason has brought with it, I wonder if in this regard we weren’t better off with superstitions that declared some acts of natural destruction taboo. Even if it played on people’s fears of vengeful spirits, at least it helped preserve the fragile Himalayan ecosystem.

Perhaps, this monumental tragedy will inspire us to consider a re-sacralisation of our connection with nature. To consider the Ganga, the Himalayas, their flora and fauna, and our surroundings wherever we are, as sacred and alive entities, not just myths or idols to be worshipped in temples, or consumables to be exploited for our needs. Perhaps this will be the call to return to our natural selves, and re-visualise the ecological divinity that exists all around us. — The Asian Age, 28 June 2013

Shivling Mountain & Gangotri Glacier in Uttarakhand

Source of Ganga: Gangotri glacier & Shivling mountain in Garhwal, Himalayas

Mining in the Himalayas

Deforestation and mining in the Himalayas is the cause of landslides and flooding. 

Ganga in spate at Uttarkashi

The Ganga in spate at Uttarkashi, June 2013

Pilgrim offering lamp to Ganga Devi at the Kumbha Mela 2013

Pilgrim offering a lamp to Ganga at Prayag, Kumbha Mela 2013

Why do big banks launder money? – Chris Morgan Jones

Federal police officers arrest suspects following a shooting, Tijuana, Mexico, 2009; Federal presentation of seized cartel money, Mexico City, 2012. (Shaul Schwarz/Getty, Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty)

Chris Morgan Jones“The amount of criminal money in our financial system is more or less impossible [to calculate]…. Nevertheless, some organizations have tried. The International Monetary Fund believes that money laundering transactions make up between 2 percent and 5 percent of global gross domestic product. The United Nations, through its Office of Drugs and Crime, analyzed a number of studies and found that proceeds from criminal activity of all kinds are likely to be some 3.6 percent of GDP, and that more than two-thirds of this would need to be laundered each year—a sum of approximately $1.6 trillion.” – Chris Morgan Jones

HSBC HQ LondonMexican and Colombian drug cartels, shady foreign officials, sanctioned regimes such as Iran and Sudan—those are just some of the sources of income for the global banking industryWachoviaHSBCStandard Chartered, and Deutsche Bank have all accepted fines for laundering money from illegal sources. The question is: why take the risk? One would think that even with extraordinary pressure coming from shareholders and fierce competition between corporate rivals, surely taking such money must be an unusual and misguided step.

But in fact  what these isolated incidents reveal is that illegal money—the basis of the so-called “dark economy”—so thoroughly saturates the world’s businesses that banks and bankers are simply swimming in illegal profits, whether they like it or not.

Commerzbank HQ FrankfurtThe now-defunct U.S. bank Wachovia was the first. In 2008 it was investigated for taking in money from Mexican and Columbian drug cartels, and two years later its new parent paid $150 million in fines. HSBC processed drug money, too, at least $881 million of it, and paid fines of $1.9 billion as a result. Elsewhere, corruption has generated the suspect cash. Last year, German authorities settled money-laundering charges brought against four executives of Commerzbank who had been accused of hiding assets on behalf of a Russian minister; and a month before that one of Britain’s oldest and most respectable banks, Coutts and Co., was fined for accepting deposits from politically exposed persons. Most recently, another British bank, Standard Chartered, agreed to pay $327 million to settle charges that it had routinely accepted money from Iran, Sudan, Libya and Burma, in breach of U.S. sanctions; and the moment the headlines from that news had settled, five Deutsche Bank executives were arrested in Frankfurt by prosecutors investigating a large VAT fraud with significant money-laundering elements.

Lord Home is Chairman of Coutts & Co.It’s been quite a run. Large, reputable western banks have been involved in criminal scandals before, of course, but the cases have tended to be isolated. The six cases outlined above took place within a four-year period, and four of them within the last year.

Two explanations account for what begins to look like the makings of a trend. The first, more charitable of the two, holds that in each of these institutions, greedy individuals make immoral decisions in order to enrich themselves. For a culture that hardly prizes its bankers, this version is all too credible, but it ignores the nature of this type of offense. These are crimes of omission, of turning a blind eye, and the criminal crux of each case is whether that failure was inadvertent or deliberate. Yet Wachovia Bankgiven the number of cases, either that’s a lot of inattention, or there’s some hidden incentive built-in to the system that bankers are failing to resist.

This leads to the second, more radical, and unfortunately more accurate interpretation: that there’s now simply too much black business to ignore. The extent of the dark economy is so significant that banks—all of them driven by the need to grow and to please their shareholders—find it impossible not to engage with it.

Deutsche Bank HQ FrankfurtHow all of this black money flows through reputable organizations is something that has fascinated me for years. Before I wrote novels, I investigated for the business intelligence company Kroll. At the heart of any decent case, we tended to find a shadowy caste of middlemen and frontmen, whose job it was to move and hide money on behalf of criminals and corrupt politicians.

They were mainly lawyers and accountants working either in tiny offshore hideaways or in plain view in the financial centers of the world. What distinguished them from their peers was that, without question, they were happy to take illicit funds from one place, divide them into chunks, move them through complex networks of companies, and keep them safe for their owners. And to be paid a fee beyond what their talents would otherwise command. I find these Standard Chartered Bank CEO Jaspal Bindra HKpeople fascinating, since they sit right at the junction where business, crime, and corrupt politics meet, and for a long time I thought that they were the unsung villains of the criminal world, quietly turning an almost-invisible mechanism.

But perhaps some of this dark mechanism is coming to light. Establishing a figure for the amount of criminal money in our financial system is more or less impossible, for obvious reasons. Nevertheless, some organizations have tried. The International Monetary Fund believes that money laundering transactions make up between 2 percent and 5 percent of global gross domestic product. The United Nations, through its Office of Drugs IOR (Vatican Bank) inside Vatican Cityand Crime, analyzed a number of studies and found that proceeds from criminal activity of all kinds are likely to be some 3.6 percent of GDP, and that more than two-thirds of this would need to be laundered each year—a sum of approximately $1.6 trillion.

If this figure is close to being correct, any bank competing fiercely with its rivals will find it extremely difficult to pass up the business generated by that much flowing money. For an international bank, it would be the equivalent of refusing to work with an economy the size of Spain or Australia. No chief executive would target this revenue, or consciously condone his people doing so; but he might fail to take the painful measures necessary to keep it out.

Some clearly have failed. Others are almost certainly failing as I write. – The Daily Beast, 2 March 2013

» For eleven years, Chris Morgan Jones worked at Kroll, the world’s largest business intelligence agency. He has advised Middle Eastern governments, Russian oligarchs, New York banks, London hedge funds, and African mining companies. He is the author of The Jackal’s Share and The Silent Oligarch.

Pope urges international financial reform!

U.S. adds Vatican Bank to money-laundering list (with videos) – Philip Pullella