Camp(u)s of dissent


Freedom begins between the ears – Edward Hubby

Time is a cruel equaliser. The very youth power which catapulted the present disposition to the seat power has unleashed itself once again against it. Jawaharlal Nehru University, the venerable seat of learning has become the battleground of nationalism. Here’s my two cents on the issue.

If Kanhaya Kumar and his friends did indulge in sloganeering that supports the cause of those who support Kashmir’s freedom from India, it is a case of an opinion, which I’ve right to disagree. To call it sedition, is to stretch the argument a bit too far. Basing the entire case on a purportedly doctored tape, questions our fundamental right to disagree. We exhort populace of western countries to raise up and reign in their governments from their hegemonic designs. If they do, we consider them fair and just, not unpatriotic to their country.  Sometimes, no reaction from governments (which is the case in 99% of the time on all issues) is the best solution. Sad it is to see our political parties make university campuses their battleground.

Is there something in university campuses across the world to become the launch pads for revolutions across the world? Young blood, new found idealism and outside influence (positive or negative) make them a tinder box, awaiting a spark to set off chain reactions. India, is not alone in this, it’s a world-wide phenomenon.

May 10, 1968 is a date etched forever in the history and minds of French. On that day students of various Paris universities joined civil unrest and general strike by workers and brought the country to a halt. On May 13, a million Parisians – university students, high school students, workers, officials, teachers – marched, prompting the government to call for fresh elections. Many observers feared civil war or revolution; the national government itself momentarily ceased to function after President Charles de Gaulle secretly left France for a few hours. Although the events sometimes turned violent, they also had artistic and festive aspects with numerous quasi-improvised debates and assemblies, songs, imaginative graffiti, posters and slogans. It was a revolution that never was.

Gwangju Uprising in South Korea in 1980 (May 5-18) was in protest against the actions of Chun Doo-hwan government by the people of Gwangju city. Chun Doo-hwan came to power in a military coup which the students of local Jeonnam University were protesting against and were calling for restoration of democracy. Chun’s regime hit back. About 600 –some estimate 2000- students were killed by military which had silent backing of US under Jimmy Carter (who incidentally won a Noble Peace Prize later!). Incidentally, students are back on the streets of Seoul since November 2015, as the present government, ruled by the daughter of an ex-President who has a dark side, wants to rewrite the history text books which might help her father look better!

The role of university students in Chinese uprising in 1989 or the growth of Naxalism in Andhra Pradesh and also in the formation of Telangana is very significant. World over, students are increasingly getting active and restive. Students in US are protesting in an organised way against the ballooning student loan debts which total nearly $1 trillion! In Bangladesh, students are raising their voice against taxes on tuition fees.

For governments, universities are both the centres of future and revolutions. In India, we are even more uniquely placed. Never before in the history, are so many young men and women seated in the classrooms of a country. Economic and social equality along with economic opportunities need to be ensured by the governments of today and tomorrow. The way our political parties demonstrated their credentials in the Hyderabad University and JNU rows, political reformation is need of the hour.

Let’s not forget the words of the great Chinese philosopher Confucius: Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.

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Too much and too little


Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone- John Maynard Keynes

62 =3,500,000,000.

Let me simplify. 62 is equal to 3.5 billion. Not possible? Yes, it is. The total wealth of 3.5 billion poorest people on earth is equal to the wealth of the top 62 people in the world. Wealth inequality was never at its worst and is growing worse. Two years ago the equation was 86=3.5 billion. Shocking but true.

OXFAM, the international confederation which works to fight against economic inequality and elimination of poverty puts out this report just before the annual World Economic Forum in Davos. Rich get richer, poor become poorer is an aphorism which is sadly turning into a truism. It has become the world of 1% (or even less).

In India the situation is same, if not worse. Reportedly 1% of rich Indians own 53% of the total wealth in the country. That is, based on the declared wealth. Adding black money and benami holdings, the numbers get scary. Twenty-five years of liberalisation has widened the gap ever more.

Strangely the gap has increased in the recent decade when the world is going through a long economic depression. Take the case of Bill Gates, among the richest men in the world. Got nothing against Bill Gates (thanks Bill for the free Windows 10 upgrade!) but his wealth build up is a lesson in capitalism. Between 2008 and 2015 his wealth doubled – from $40 billion to $85 billion! A rate of growth of about 10% p.a. Now the surprise. Last seven years have been tumultuous ones for global economy wherein economic growth in US and the world was nearly flat with surging unemployment and decline in living standards. Not just Bill Gates, the rich got richer; the number of dollar millionaires have gone up and the economic gap has increased. How to bridge the gap?

The world is made up of haves and have-nots. There are actually another set of people – have-not-paid-for -what -they-have’s. To simply, tax – wealth and income tax. Tax havens and tax laws have ensured that the salaried class pays their share while the super rich can hide and avoid their riches to grow even more rich. It is a documented fact that the heiress of a great cosmetic company is worth $11 billion but declares an income of $5 million on which she pays taxes! Thomas Piketty , the French economist, believes has an answer to this problem.

Inheritance, Piketty identifies, is largely the chief cause of the prevalent economic inequality. The afore mentioned cosmetic brand heiress worth $11 billion has not worked even for a single day in her life! Capitalism permits you to earn your riches through innovation and hard work. Inheritance changes the setting as some have a great start ahead for no reason except for being born in the right family. The rate of growth of the world economy is lower than the rate of growth of returns (through inheritance)on capital of the few leading to instability and inequality. Tax on inheritance and increase on income tax on the rich along with sustained effort to dismantling of the tax havens is the recipe recommended by Piketty and other economists with similar views.

Before we concluded with a bleaker view of the situation, need to note the positives. World poverty as a whole is coming down, the triad of sanitation, education and health is reaching more and more people. Importantly, philanthropy is playing a large part-lead by the likes of Bill Gates- in making the world a better place. Trickle down effect is on, though its just a trickle.

The gap is too huge to be plugged in a few years. Hope and concentrated efforts will make our world more equal than it is today.



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