It’s Showtime! Sarabhais and the Markets

Dear Reader,

Hi! I resume the Tweakonomics column in the Hindu Business Line today, after a hiatus of about three months. A very, very special thank you to my Editor Raghuvir Srinivasan for thoughtfully sending in the sweetest email I ever got from the Business Line, asking me to drop whatever it is I’m busy with and get down to writing pronto! Thanks, Raghu!

So, here’ s a piece for Sarabhai fans ONLY 🙂 What happens when popular CNBC TV anchors start talking like the crazy Sarabhais?

You might want to see the article directly at http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/tweakonomics-on-rbi-fed-and-the-rate-hikes/article9591444.ece

Else, read on here, directly. Enjoy!


That the Sarabhai vs. Sarabhai Season 2 is set to make a comeback after 7 years has taken the Indian public by storm, as the RBI Governor discovered, much to his dismay on a regular, boring, nondescript working day in the RBI. Janet Yellen raised the rates and thankfully, the markets, which had already factored in the move a week earlier, did not show a knee jerk reaction. There was no major outflow from stocks, and the Governor found himself breathing a bit easy. “Let me see what news analysts are saying,” he thought, and switched on the TV.

“OMG! Janet Yellen has raised the interest rates, Mummyji!” shrieked a female spokesperson of Franklin Templeton Investment Funds, in a Monisha-esque voice. “Sahil, mein ghar chhod ke jaa rahi hoon!” Sahil, which in this case is supposed to be the Sensex, reacted positively and went up a few points. “Waaaaaaaaaaaaaa,” wailed Monisha Templeton. “Here I am thinking of leaving home, and your mood is upbeat. Now I know Indian markets don’t value me!”

“Gawd, what the hell is the matter with these folks!” thought the Guv and flipped channels to CNBC, where Lata Venkatesh was looking at the Franklin Templeton move of selling on Indian bourses. “To sell and move just because Yellen has behaved predictably is Foreign Institutionally middle-class”, she said with an upturned nose. “The least they could have done is looked at the UP story and what it means for the speed of reforms in India. What do you think, Rosesh beta?”

Udayan looked simply delighted. “I’ve written a poem on this, Momma,” he squawked. Lata didn’t look too pleased at being addressed thus, but just maintained a stoic silence. To have reacted to this would have been professionally middle-class.

“Janet Auntie has acted like a hawk/ Now the markets will listen to Momma talk!”

Lata was now simply quivering with the effort, but didn’t react to the poem.

“And here’s another one, Momma.

Us waali auntie, US waali auntie, kitna bhi kar lo rates ko hike, hike, hike/

FB par Sensex ko hi milenge like, like like!”

Deafening silence on the show.

“How is it, Momma.”

“Why don’t you take a break, Udayan,” said Anuj Indravadan Singhal, with clenched teeth, “before I break somebody’s head here. This show is called the closing bell, but any more poetry from you, and we’ll have the show closing before the markets do. And yes, Maya, let’s have a cheeseburger on the Breakfast show today!”

“I thought we’re here to discuss the heavy weight stocks, and not ourselves become heavy-weight, Indu,” said Lata, icily. “How about food for thought?”

“Here’s Maya in top form, folks! Why don’t you take a break while my heart breaks from the lack of sympathy on this show..”

“This is it! Everybody has gone complete nuts!” thought the Governor, switching off the TV as his special hotline rang softly. The ring tone was Mittrrrrron.

“Looks like politics is controlling economics, Urjit. Markets are up, Congress is down. I sometimes wonder about the NCP though. Can it pose a threat at the local level?”

“NCP? Unki ghadi kahaan kaam kar rahi hain?” said the Governor, before he’d realized he was being Dushyant. Horrified, he tried to cover up. “I mean, Sir, errr…”

But he was met by a chuckle at the other end. “You’ve been watching too much TV, Urjit!” the PM said laughingly. “Ye jo najar aate hain, Mittron, Ye toh woh hain nahi…”

 

 

Demonetized Shaadi: Bollywood Style!

Dear Reader,

Hi! Here’s a tweak piece on the demonetization and the immense opportunities it has created for Karan Johar 😛 This piece appeared in my column titled “Tweakonomics” in the Hindu Business Line today. You can read it at http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/black-money-and-political-parties/article9374624.ece; else read it here directly. Enjoy!

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The scene opens in Netaji’s office, where Netaji is sitting glued to the TV listening raptly to the debate on demonetisation. Such is his interest that he has consumed only seven cups of tea since the morning, instead of the usual 11. A particular piece of news makes him sit up suddenly straight and holler for Clever Guptaji.

Netaji (in a deafening noise): GUPTAJI, GUPTAJI, where are you? Come in here. ASAP!

Clever Guptaji (scared): What happened, Sir? Have you discovered yet another stash of ₹1,000 notes? I was telling you, Sir. We can’t have only ₹40 crore in cash. There’s bound to be at least another ₹50 crore somewhere. But you wouldn’t listen to me, Sir. The moment they announced that only those with a clean image and less than ₹50 crore cash would get an LS ticket for next season, you had to shoot off your mouth about how squeakily clean you are. Tch, tch, at least you could have said ₹49 crore! But just ₹40 crores! The others were looking pityingly at you, Sir. You have now really lost your image in the party.

Netaji (annoyed): GUPTAJI! Stop talking nonsense! See what they are saying here in the news! Families with marriages can get up to ₹2.5 lakh in cash.

Clever Guptaji: Errrr, so?

Netaji: So? So? Go out immediately and tell all our karyakartas and partymen to book marriage halls, gardens and lawns. And it must look like the bookings were done in September itself. Even if you get 200 of our party workers to book halls, we can get at least ₹5 crores converted into the new currency. Ha! Do this immediately, before the other parties start looking for marriage avenues.

Clever Guptaji (protesting): Sir, this is getting really, really difficult. Our party workers are tired from so much stress, Sir. The moment they see me, most run in the opposite direction.

Netaji (annoyed): What nonsense, Guptaji! What stress do they have? Getting rid of just ₹20-30 lakh should not cause any stress at all, Guptaji!

Guptaji (panicking): But Sir, please understand the field reality! Our partymen have already posed as housemaids, drivers, gardeners in the last one week. Some have even acted as construction workers, truck drivers and even mine workers, Sir.

Netaji (impressed): Wow! Mine workers!

Guptaji (wincing at the memory): The problem is that since it worked in Bihar, the idiots thought it’ll work in Mumbai as well. Anyway, we next moved them to villages where they’ve already acted as farmers, shepherds, landless labourers, shopkeepers, tailors and even as MNREGA workers. Till that indelible ink started getting used, they were working three shifts, Sir. Farmer in the morning, landless by afternoon and driver in the evening. Some dedicated old handers even switched genders. Karan Johar is now recruiting all extras exclusively from our party, Sir.

Netaji (interested): That’s extraordinary! I must ask him to endorse me when I get my LS ticket next season! But, coming back to business, if we have such talented people, it is now easy. Just book the halls, and get some really nice wedding cards printed. And tell them to go into the banks wearing nice jewellery. Half of them can be parents of brides and the other half will be the parents of grooms.

Clever Guptaji (muttering): Let me call Karan Johar. He can start casting for Demonetised Dulhaniya Le Jayenge.

Kahani Contract Ki: Holmstrom’s Sholay connection!

Dear Reader,

Hi! Here’s a tweak piece arguing that the Contract Theory of the Nobel Laureate Bengt Holmstrom is but a spin-off of Sholay 🙂

This piece appeared under my column Tweakonomics in the Hindu Business Line today. You can read it at http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/columns/tweakonomics-on-nobel-prize-for-economics/article9211922.ece; else read it here directly. Cheers!

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The modern world rests on the foundations built by contracts. Contracts, when completed, when partially honoured, when inefficiently designed, lead to different scenarios that can be used to describe situations in the world of economics and sociology. It is for “launching contract theory as a fertile field of basic research” that the Nobel Prize in Economics for 2016 has been awarded to Oliver Hart and Bengt Holmström.

Year 1975. As fate would have it, Holmström, then a professor at Kellog’s Graduate School of Management, was bored. Life had become but a bowl of cereal. Paul Samuelson had already received his Nobel for unifying static and dynamic analysis. There was Kuznets who had had the last word in growth, and Kenneth Arrow who took the system from growth to welfare. In the process, if there were any fluctuations at all, Myrdal and Hayek had already explained them. Milton Friedman had had the last word on most of stabilisation theory and Ohlin broke the trade barriers. Aaaarrrrgh! Was there anything at all left to be analysed?

Frustrated, Holmström went home and idly flipped channels on TV. Lady Luck was watching. Had Holmström decided to watch the many antics of Lucille Ball, she would not have helped him. The world would then be a different place.

A certain Cambridge economist would go on to become FM and then, against all odds, the PM of a developing country. Quite a strange contract it would be. The intense political economy situation would lead him to pen the theory of political contracts and later to a powerfully silent Nobel acceptance speech. After all, a lot rested on whether he would flip over to the next channel or not. Holmström hesitated, paused, and flipped.

An Indian movie was being aired. There were people dancing to a song. And then suddenly came dacoits. The villagers ran helter-skelter and two good-looking young men shot at the dacoits, who were forced to return to their lair to face the wrath of the Sardar. “Kitne aadmi thhey?” asked the Sardar spitefully. How interesting! This guy, who is the principal dacoit, does not really know what his agents face in the field. The main fella has an objective function of dominating the local area with the help of Kalia et al., whose main objective is to bully and snatch food from villagers. How non-optimal! A breach of contract is imminent. Hmmm. How will the principal control his little gang of agents? “Jo darr gaya, samjho marr gaya.” Ouch!

But see how the coin flips (ahem, quite literally too, in the film). There’s this cop, who too is a principal working with the agents. He is not only armless, but also pretty much blind to field issues. But he is smart. He has the objective function spelt out: “Mujhe Gabbar chahiye. Zinda.” He keeps the money part of the contract simple. Half the amount to be paid at the beginning, half once the job is completed. This thakur tests his agents’ capabilities, gives them information over a spiffing cabaret performance to complete the contract, and in the end also uses the verbal promise made by one friend to emotionally fortify the terms of the contract.

“Brilliant!” thought Holmström feverishly. Every situation is basically an outcome of a contract, wisely or unwisely written. Let me put this down into an academic paper. As the thakur would have said, “Loha garam hain. Maar do hathauda.” The rest is history.

Yours truly…When Raghu wrote a letter!

Dear Reader,

Hi! Now that Urjit Patel takes over as the Governor, Raghuram Rajan wanted to share those wicked tips on handling the high profile job properly! Read the heart-to-heart, Governor-to-Governor letter in my humor column “Tweakonomics” in the Hindu Business Line at http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/columns/yours-truly/article9022386.ece#comments. Else, read it here directly. Enjoy!

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Dear Bro,

Hi… ummm, let me firstly do the right stuff and welcome you to this super-high profile job. It’s obviously every economist’s dream job, and yes, highly gratifying, intellectually satisfying, policy-oriented and autonomous as well (err, at least on paper)!

Okay, formalities over, let me now talk plain truth. This job is the most thankless, frustrating, annoying and the most unenviable post an economist can ever hope to man. And while I’m extremely proud of you, I must convey that what I feel for you right now borders between high anxiety to plain paranoia. Friedman help us all! Why did you accept this, man?

Well, so I thought that I’ll be a good friend and share some of those few experiences that you may benefit from, as you step into the ring to try and control inflation, growth, employment, currency, exchange rates, FOREX reserves, bond yields, bank assets, RBI pay-scales, central banking autonomy as well as the Government’s ego, all at the same time, while still managing to look completely unruffled and fit from your squash game last evening.

The media is the undoubtedly most exasperating part of the job and will insist on calling you Santa Claus (post rate-cut), inflation warrior (post rate hike) and rockstar (when you maintain status-quo). Hehehe, I may be the rockstar, but you are the quintessential rapper, eh?

There’s news from the RBI, Yo! It’s sure lookin good/

Sentiment is up, so is the market mood!

China is down, but the US looks bright/

 

We’ve got a new warrior, Yo! A corporate-wala knight!

Rap…….Patel Rap!

All the best, Bro. I never quite knew how to react to these crazy things they wrote about me. So here is my first advice. It is alright even if you do not plan your post-policy review speech, but you MUST plan how you’ll react to the rapper analogy. Will you be white-lipped and disapproving, or give just a plain bored look, or will you laugh outright? My personal strategy was always “review with a smile”. That humour quotient always works. And oh boy, are you going to need that humour!

A word of caution. Avoid idioms and phrases and just talk plain ole repo. You’ll do well to steer clear of the land of the blind, one-eyed, two-eyed or any kind of king completely. Also stay away from regular birds like hawks, doves, owls; run in the opposite direction on spotting the black swan.

What can I advice you about inflation targeting? It was you who spearheaded the entire process and helped set the bandwidths around the 4 per cent inflation mark. But Bro, there is this other targeting I have to caution you about. Tch, tch, tch, you are too international for this profile. Born in Kenya, graduated from LSE, an MPhil from Oxford, and a PhD from Yale? A stint with IMF and BCG? Are we in trouble! Earlier it was only me who was “unIndian”, but now there’s also Brett Lee and you. Wonder if they’ll invite Brett next. Anyway, welcome to the madness. I am sure you will deal with it with your usual good sense, and set those bandwidths of tolerance around your profile.

Don’t let the volatility in markets lead to volatility in your mind. Let statisticians worry about the ARIMA models. Remember, GARIMA is more important that ARIMA. A final word: When you are having a hard time, read ‘Tweakonomics’ in Business Line.

Sincerely,

Banker on the move.

Econ Mom, Brexit and the Wimbledon finals

OMG. It’s that time of the year again, when Team Phadke moves into Antagonism Extremis.  As the loyal blog reader must know by now, we, the Phadkes, have never quite taken to the Amicable Extremis family model of the Smriti Irani prototype TV shows. We hate each others’ guts, and we’re superbly candid and proud about it. Even Lil One does not quite like his parents. Even when he was in third grade and all the ickle ones wrote reams and reams of stuff on “What I like about my mom”, Lil One had sat in school with a puzzled expression on his face, really not sure what he quite liked about Mommy dearest. He had finally ventured to write “My mother is funny. She makes faces while telling stories. She looks weird. I think I like her.” I hadn’t quite known whether to fret or be proud of the boy.

Well, so, to come back to the point, we don’t normally see eye to eye on most things, me n Hubby. But our usual arguments (which are fairly Ouch!) seem almost….sweet in comparison, when June arrives. Why? Because, June is TENNIS! The French Open followed by Winbledon, back to back. It’s enough to send our household into a complete, no-holds barred war scenario.

About a decade ago, when the Roger Federer – Rafael Nadal rivalry was at its peak, the June season at our place used to spark some of the worst marital issues ever. Even worse than who’ll do the dishes at night. Even worse than who didn’t fill the icecube tray after last use (That, single handedly is the cause of 73% of the famed Phadke arguments. BTW, it’s always Hubby. Though he’ll never agree to it. I am now thinking of putting in a mini camera in my ice-cube tray just to prove him wrong. Hehehe.) Even worse than who’ll clean the toilets. And that’s saying something. Sigh!

What with me supporting Nadal and Hubby dearest supporting Federer, emotions used to run sky high. French Open and the clay courts would normally bring out the best form in Nadal and the best scowl in Hubby. Oh God, after Nadal won the French Open final against Federer in 2007, Hubby had sulked and sulked and didn’t speak to me till Federer beat him back in the Wimbledon season. That I didn’t speak to him for an entire 2 month period post-Wimbledon is just a logical extension of the argument. Hubby is quite fond of that particular memory and gets this glassy eyed expression whenever he thinks of those two blissful months with me not shrieking at him.

This year’s been no different. “Nadal not playing French Open due to injury!” Hubby piped up suddenly, over morning tea whilst reading the news. “Tch. Tch. Tch. The poor man’s getting old. He should retire.” That came in a gleeful, teasing tone.  He spent most of the day passing idiotic comments on me and singing, “Mujhe buddhaa mil gayaa” and generally making me mad. Heehee. The next day Federer crashed out due to injury. I now joined in the singing fairly enthusiastically. By day end, we were getting on each other’s nerves and had a mother of a fight that evening. Even with both of them NOT playing, we again stopped talking to each other. AAAAAARRRRGH!!!!

Wimbledon was to start on the 27th June; in the meanwhile the Brexit referendum was held on the 23rd. The leave lobby won by a very slight margin; it was 52% voting for leave as compared to 48% voting to remain. I wasn’t amused. “I really don’t understand what they are going to gain by exiting.”I was talking to one of my colleagues on phone. “45% of UK exports are vis-a-vis Europe. How can one expect to create that kind of an export share with some other country? They are worried about the Syrians coming in and taking their jobs. But frankly, if Brexit happens, there won’t be too many jobs around in the first place for anyone to come in and grab. Brexit is so not a good idea!”

I have been reading up by the ton on Brexit analysis that is coming through and the more I look at the issue, I get a feeling that this is going to be one major setback for the EU in general, and UK in particular. Colossally bigger in scale and management than Greece was. The Grexit was about a fiscally indisciplined, small problem-child wanting to exit the family. UK has a fairly big presence in the EU and will create multiple issues upon exit. There’ll be something of a case that EU will want to make out of it and will make it painful for UK to exit, just so that others do not entertain similar fanciful ideas. The pain will obviously come in through squeezed out market access, high tariff and non-tariff barriers against UK, lower accessibility to capital flows etc. UK, which will be at the receiving end of the cold shoulder, does not have an immediate ally such as the US to help them tide over the crisis. Hmmm, Brexit is going to be fairly painful for UK.

“Mom! Are you coming here?” yelled Lil One from the living room. “The semi-final is just starting! Raonic vs. Federer!” OMG. Of course. I hurried into the living room. The tension was palpable. Hubby and Lil One turned blue, green and a delicate shade of yellow as Raonic unleashed those aces on Roger Federer. It was sad. Federer lost the semis and the final would now be between Raonic and Murray.

“I hope Murray beats him 6-0. 6-0, 6-0.” That was Hubby, brooding with a dark gaze on the dinner table. This is interesting. Hubby has never quite supported Murray, whereas I am well, not too fond of him, but I like his game.

“Gosh! Does that mean we ALL support the same player in the finals?” Lil One was quite impressed by the uniqueness of this situation. The poor boy has never quite seen his parents support the same player during tennis season. I wonder if he’ll be able to handle this spirit of bonhomie during Wimbledon finals.

“Yes, Lil One,” said Hubby winking at Lil One wickedly. “I so totally agree with Mom. Brexit is such a bad idea!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Econ Mom on Cricket, Sarfarosh and the Nirmal Gram Yojana

Lord help me! It’s vacation time and Lil One is in top form. It’s cricket, 24 by 7. I have grave doubts that he may have completely forgotten me by now and generally identifies me as the screaming woman who is forever telling him to take a shower and look a little more clean. I am thinking of buying a bowler shaped umpire hat to just get his attention and to declare that Mom has “run out” of patience. Sigh!

He wakes up really late and then has a shower that will put the meanest water conservationist to shame (yesterday he emerged from the bath in a record 55 seconds looking dirtier than he looked when he headed in), gulps down breakfast and then literally rushes for his galli cricket. Lunch is but a cricket affair. All of my culinary feats (well, to be fair, that just includes cut mangoes, sigh!) lie neglected in the discussion of Lil One’s runs, his sixes and fours, his amazing new style of bowling and ouch! injuries. “I got that bruise when I dived in order to take that catch, Mom. You should have seen it! And this one is, well, the opposition team didn’t like the fact that I did a hat trick.” I had a mental vision of Lil One running giggling and teasing followed by ruffianish kids holding bats and stumps.

“Please! Do you guys go after each other when someone does a hat-trick?”

He shrugged and rolled his eyes at me as if to say that this is the basic rule of galli cricket 101.

“In our days,” I started, “cricket was called a gentleman’s game.”

“Yes!” snorted Lil One immediately, “and they had to be gentlemen for 5 days! How boring, Mom! Our way is better, more direct. 5 hours, if there’s no hat trick.”

“And if there is one?”

“5 minutes!” he grinned evilly at me.

Gawd! Boys! I don’t remember ever running after another child armed with a bat in all of my childhood. The max damage I guess we girls inflicted on each other was biting or pulling each other’s hair; hmmm, though I remember Mom’s lecture after I had clawed the face of this girl, when I was 6, after she called me a monkey. I also remember that nothing in the lecture had managed to wipe off that vague feeling of …satisfaction I had after that amazing fight. “Genes, my dear” whispered my darker mind to me evilly, but I shrugged off that feeling uncomfortably. And coming back to the present sharply, I ticked him off in my usual Maya Sarabhai tone. “Running after each other with bats” I told him with an upturned nose, “is hooliganistically middle class.”

“Heehee! Mom, can I please have another Rs.20?”

“What! You lost the ball you bought yesterday too?” I looked at him in dismay. You get a rubber ball for Rs. 20 and a tennis ball for Rs. 40 and a season ball for Rs. 150. A single window pane costs Rs. 80 to fix and an entire window, well, Rs. 200. Guess how I know all of this? Sigh!

“Mommy, Swapnil hit a six and it went over the rooftop…his mom won’t get him a new ball, please Mom?”

“But really…”

Lil One suddenly adapted Veeran’s character from the movie Sarfarosh (He’s really good at mimicry). “Yeh bat hain. Lekin agar tumne mujhe Rs. 20 nahi deeye, toh yeh kya hain? Patthar hain, patthar!”

Interesting, thought Econ Mom, that dialogue from Sarfarosh. “Patthar hain, patthar,” is what Veeran says to convince the arms seller that a gun without bullets is as good as stone. Interesting, because I had thought of the same dialogue just yesterday, when I was on a field visit to this remote hamlet in Raigad.

The past month has been extremely taxing. I’m currently working on a project for the State Election Commission and we’ve been all over Maharashtra, talking to Zilla Parishad members and Government officials in remote, faraway Panchayat Samitis. It’s been taxing, but I’m not complaining. The learning’s been so huge that it takes away the physical discomfort of travelling in the burning sun.

Now, as we all know, the spread of a village is not too huge geographically. But this village has some “wadis” or small hamlets included in it, some of which are 17 kms away from the main market of the village! The reason of including these into the village is that the population in those wadis is hardly 150-200 tribals and hence, these wadis have not been granted the status of a separate village.

Now, there was this tribal lady (a Gram Panchayat member) who had come walking 17 kms down the mountains just to meet us and be part of the Gram Panchayat meeting. When I expressed dismay that she had to walk just to see us, she shrugged. “That’s fine. We do this everyday anyways.”

Our team was there to understand the dynamics of a gram panchayat with reservations for tribals. One point led to another and we were soon asking the villagers what their plans were for the development of the village. “We really want to get the Nirmal Gram Puraskar in the next couple of years,” said their Sarpanch.

For the uninitiated, Nirmal Gram award is given to villages that completely stop open defecation and achieve full sanitation.

“We built toilet blocks last year itself in our wadi!” declared the tribal lady, who’d come walking down from her wadi.

“That’s amazing!” I said. “So is your wadi completely sanitized?”

“Madam, we built toilet blocks because there was a scheme under which we got funds for it. But there’s no water supply. Our wadi is in such a remote location that water supply is a permanent problem. So all the community toilets are extremely dirty and no one uses it. Open defecation is…normal.”

There you go. It’s such a shame. In the past one month, I’ve come across such umpteen horrors from the field, where you see how hotch-potch implementation creates really bad issues. Whoever said that India is a poor country? We are spending money by the crores, literally be the crores, on thoughtless, hopeless, badly implemented programs, so that next year people will come back craving for more from corrupt officials who don’t care a damn.

“But you are an elected member of this Panchayat. How did you contest elections if you do not have a toilet block at home?”

“Madam, there are only 2 houses in our wadi that have attached toilets. Ours is one of these and hence I could contest.”

“But then, how do you get the water for your toilet facilities?”

Now here, the lady looked distinctly uncomfortable. What she said next really tore at my heart.

“See Madam, we are relatively well off in our wadi. We have a bullock cart. So we fetch water by loading pails into the bullock cart. I tried telling the other people in my wadi that they too should get water from the river and use it to keep the toilet clean. But no one else has bullock carts. And when you walk 3 kms in one direction just to get 4 pails of drinking water in this hot sun, Madam, there’s not enough life left in you to walk another 6 kms to get water for sanitation. No one is willing to do this. I’ve antagonized all other women in my wadi by telling them to get water for the toilet blocks. They believe that rich people like us do not understand their problems. So now you tell me, how can the Nirmal Gram Yojana help my wadi in which water supply is itself an issue?”

Nirmal Gram cannot happen in a suspended framework. Water has to reach the villages. It has to be stored properly. Only then can the funds for building toilets be sanctioned. Also, someone will have to also look at the feasibility of maintaining the toilet facility once it’s ready. And that someone is supposed to be the elected member in the Gram Panchayat or Panchayat Samiti or Zilla Parishad! Where the hell are these people? And why is no one working for these outcomes? This is just going to become another yojana, under which we build toilet facilities which in fact create more sanitation and health hazards than a scenario under which there are no toilet blocks.

I thought of not only toilets without water, but also of the pathetic quality of politicians who have not been able to drive this change in the past 70 years since independence and my mind said passionately, angrily, in a Veeran tone, “Patthar hain, patthar.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Metaphorical Faux Pas of the Central Banker

What happens when you cross metaphors with economic ideologies? Controversies, as the RBI Governor discovered after calling the Indian economy a one-eyed king in the land of the blind. Many an eye popped with disapproval, many an eyebrow was raised delicately, many a pert nose wrinkled in metaphorical distaste and all hell broke proverbially loose.

The poor, poor man must have wondered what he’d said that was so very wrong. He was just trying to say that a 7.5% growth rate was not a bright spot by itself; it still was short of hitting the potential growth rate in India. So compared to a lacklustre world, we may seem to be quite the economic miracle, but well, a miracle that could get more miraculous. A one-eyed king in the land of the blind. Uh-oh!

Miffed, the Commerce Minister sniffed at the choice of words. Jayant Sinha too got into the fray with gusto claiming that to confuse the shining star with the shining one-eye was so not done. The FM, who after the Budget debate on Times Now, has discovered the lethal power of silencing loud critics with statistics, merely chose to say in a clipped, dignified fashion that 7.5% growth rate is enough to get celebrating. It’s rather unfair, to get so righteous about metaphors after having used them profusely through sher-o-shaayari to take interesting potshots at the opposition during budget speeches. Remember this, folks? “Kuch to phool khilaye humne, aur kuch phool khilane hai. Mushkil yeh hai bag me ab tak, kaante kai purane hai.” Ha!

Just as the NDA was busy meta-reacting to the poor Governor, Mani Shankar Aiyar, much to the delight of the UPA, chose to give his opinion on the issue. He cleverly and deviously converted the metaphor into an allegory to claim that the PM is in fact the one-eyed king of India, causing a kind of an allergetic or allegoristic reaction all across the NDA. The UPA must have, by now, gleefully decided that henceforth, every RBI monetary policy review will be followed by a press release personally crafted by Mani Shankar Aiyar. The RBI, which on normal days issues good monetary guidance, and on special occasions, well, issues good monetary guidance for variety, is really not used to such excitement and adrenalin. Recoiling in complete horror, it is said to be currently debating whether the Indian economy won’t be better off with only one review in every 8 years, rather than 8 reviews in every 1 year.

In the meanwhile, there was a complete kahaani mein twist as P. Chidambaram, whilst reacting to the nation’s demands about Ishrat Jahaan, chose to declare full and final support to the RBI Governor. Does the excitement never end? The Commerce Minister dished back her criticism, no holds barred. State of the economy, Indian and global, notwithstanding, this has now become a full fledged fight between the Commerce Minister and P. Chidambaram, whereas the RBI Governor, I’m sure, has decided to quit giving speeches for a while and just stick to good old monetary guidance.

Metaphorically speaking, the entire controversy is also perhaps indicative of the differences in the delivery mechanisms of the fiscal and monetary policies. The fiscal policy is passed as an Act of the Parliament; its tone does not lend itself to interpretation, its clauses have to be spelled out in black and white. The monetary policy in the Indian context, has always treaded that fine line between growth and inflation; in that sense, it has been more interpretative, more guidance oriented. It’s kind of a déjà vu, that as inflation targeting pushes monetary policy into a more concrete format, the RBI Governor faces ire for having been metaphorical in stating the stance of the Indian economy vis-a-vis the globe.

It was Alan Greenspan, a Central Banker from another time and another zone who had famously remarked, “I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” The RBI Governor may not have been in concurrence of the expansionary monetary policy that Greenspan unleashed on the US prior to the crisis, but even he will not be able to find a fault line in this particular statement by Greenspan.