Posted on 1-June-2012
I call yesterday, when the daytime high temperature was 46 degrees celsius in Delhi in shade and the nighttime minimum was 32 degrees--optimistically I guess that the temperatures are about one degree lower where I live--midsummer's day with the foolish conceit that my calling it so will bring lower temperatures from now on. This is the kind of temperature at which only the hardiest forms of life can function normally. To escape this heat ordinary mammals can either burrow underground, migrate to gentler climes or use devices running on electricity to cool their immediate surroundings. The first two are not possible for me at the moment and the third is more or less ineffective in the absence of uninterrupted flow of electricity in the wires. With mental faculties dulled and the metabolism made deplorably slow by the heat, I find myself in a humour to see only the worst side of things. This is how they look.
In India, price inflation is about 11%, the external value of the Indian rupee is at its lowest ever, the currency having lost about 30% of its value in relation to the American dollar in the last three or four months, and now most damagingly for the bards of yesteryear who ceaselessly heralded the rise of India as an economic superpower, the latest figures show that the growth of the economy dropped to about 6.5% in the last fiscal year and actually to 5.3% in the last quarter of that year. Two of the country's trade bodies have talked of low capital formation and diminishing investment. Perhaps, economic aggregates of this kind rarely describe the reality of daily life, and things are never as bad as they seem, except for the poor and the indigent whose lives are wretched in any case, even when the statistics about the economy look good. But it is in politics that the Indian picture looks really grim. In whichever direction you look, there are signs of a dysfunctional federal government headed by a prime minister who is honest only in a technical sense that he himself takes no bribe. Unlike other modern electoral democracies, he wields no authority over the political party to which he belongs--that authority belongs to a mother and son duo who have yet to show that there is much more than the interest of their family that they pursue. None of the corruption scandals that came into the open in the year after the Commonwealth Games is anywhere near closure and new tales of the government's misdeeds have been coming out with great regularity. The government's prestige is so low that it is left with practically no persuasive powers over the heads of state governments. It seems that this government has concluded that its main objective is to stay on in power till the election in 2014. It is difficult to foresee beyond that election because the main opposition party is no better than the present lot in power. In the the mean time let the economic predators, crooks and carpetbaggers of all hues prosper. At present India's democracy has become just a kakistocracy.
A little further away from home, the Syrian crisis is nowhere near resolution. One of the parties in this conflict, Basher el Assad, is in one sense more honest than his opponents--he has never claimed that he is a democrat and done very little to hide his intention to suppress the opponents of his regime with force. His opponents have often dissembled and clothed their intentions in untruths. The western powers, claiming to speak for the democratic rights of the Syrian people want Assad to go. Saudi Arabia and Qatar--neither of them democratic under any definition of the word--and probably Turkey are arming the anti-Assad rebels and the USA is almost certainly giving them communications equipment and perhaps training and advice also. The French, including their newly elected President, have been asking for more energetic action by the international community, meaning thereby the USA, the UK and them, almost as if they still hold sacred their rights given them under the Sykes-Picot agreement. Now with the Russian and the Chinese giving the Syrian government the cover of their UN Security Council vetoes, there is in the Syrian situation a suggestion also of the old style East-West international rivalry. In the mean time around 15000 Syrians have died since the the troubles began there fifteen months ago. Syria is the fourth case of western military intervention in the Middle East since 2001. In Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya the interventions were ostensibly to save the peoples of those countries from brutal tyrants and in each case the suffering and death caused by western intervention have far exceeded those in years of rule by the Taleban, Saddam Hussein and Moammar El Qaddhafi. Neither now, nor in the aftermath of the Great War for Civilisation, nor, much earlier, during the Crusades has western intervention in the Middle East been other than a cause of suffering for the people of the region and this includes the never ending pains of the Palestinians in the West Bank under Israeli military occupation. It is no wonder that groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, or Tunisia's El Nahada find ready audiences among educated, modern, middle class Arabs.
Further west, the crisis of the Euro continues. In one way the problem of the Euro lies in its design--a single central bank manages the currency while taxation and expenditure fall within the competence of democratically elected national governments answerable to their electorates. But another, equally profound cause of the crisis is an underlying conflict of interest between the banks, the financial services and industry on one side and the ordinary working people on the other. The interests of the former require an orderly management of the debts of banks and governments and therefore retrenchment of public expenditure and the latter want their jobs, pensions and social security protected and therefore no retrenchment of public expenditure. The problem gets complicated by the widespread feeling that the debts were caused by the profligacy of bankers, financiers and industrialists in their pursuit of ever higher profits while the financial burden of resolving the debt problem is having to be borne by all the people. The conflict between the two groups--governments committed to austerity and common people worried about their lives and their futures --is out on the streets in Greece and Spain--briefly in Italy too some time ago--and in France the voters have gone against the President who was committed to austerity. Many measures have have been announced by the European Union and yet fears of the collapse of the Euro persist. The effects of a collapse will be felt everywhere in the modern interconnected world but a lasting solution to the problems of the Euro lies only in the hands of Europe's politicians.
Some time ago India's meteorology department predicted plentiful and timely monsoon rains this year--how he did that unless he consulted an astrologer is beyond comprehension. The Indian government's Chief Economic Adviser spent much of the last year and a half periodically predicting a decline in price inflation after three months. He has been egregiously wrong on each occasion. Perhaps he forgot John Galbraith's remark that the only purpose of economic forecasts was to make astrology look respectable. Perhaps he will consult an astrologer before making his next economic forecast. Hopefully both the weatherman and the economist and the astrologers they consult are right and in about three weeks rains will bring down ambient temperatures and at least price inflation will come down. The number of the poor in India will be halved by another redefinition of poverty. Hopefully, in more clement weather, with my mind less numbed, I shall start seeing Manmohan Singh as knight in shining armour, western intervention in the Middle East as a benign civilising influence and the problem of the Euro as no more than a blip. The world will look better when after the start of the rains the brown, dusty earth will start turning green. But at the moment it is pessimism on which I feed.