Two Argumentative Indians.

I am blessed with the friendship of an amazing range of people and among them a special place goes to KD a great inspiration to me for courageous living under great adversity. He in turn has a wide range of friends and among them, I was fortunate to come across TD through copy of correspondence exchanged between them.

KD and TD, (even their names rhyme!) are not just friends but stimulate each other’s thought process. They usually take completely contrary view of any topic and freely exchange views, which I, as an interested observer, find very stimulating and thought provoking. So far, I have refrained from taking sides and have been content being exposed to their exchanges. KD lives in India and TD in Singapore. Both are Indians, the former by birth and residence and the latter by origin. They met at college and continue to be great friends. KD comes from an illustrious Roman Catholic family of soldiers and bureaucrats besides scientists, engineers etc. TD comes from a third generation citizens of Singapore of Indian origin from the Hindu textiles trading community.

I just want to share a particular series of exchanges with my readers. I have taken their permission to do so, but under the assurance that their identities will not be revealed. They are bashful!

The exchange starts with the publication of an article in the Financial Times by a highly respected commentator Martin Wolf. This is titled “What India must do if it is to be an affluent country.” I recommend that you read that article first to understand the exchange. The cartoon at the beginning of the article is heart breaking for me. It however reflects a reality.

Now for the exchange:

KD:Pad up because, here we go! (Pad up is a term used in playing cricket, when the batsman puts on leg pads to prevent injury from fast deliveries.)
I don’t think we should be in a race with China. It will be disastrous. Look our carbon emissions are just 1/6th of China, per capita and already our cities are ???????????????.
In any case let’s see what the hidden costs of the Chinese model are.
Let’s see if they can decouple from the US.
Let’s even, ref Urumqi and Tibet, see if the marvels of a consumer society are all that it takes to keep people happy. TD, I don’t revere poverty. But I am sure that wealth has costs and these costs are borne by the earth. I don’t believe money is inherent. All these trillions that they are talking of spending to stimulate growth, will ultimately be paid in environmental value.
And I don’t think the earth can pay it without harming itself grievously. And I believe that we are children of the earth, a part of it.

TD:”It will be disastrous” — well, what do you think of the sheer numbers of poor, malnourished and illiterate people” India has assured not to have promoted to above the poverty line, because it failed to grow economically as fast as its resources would have allowed if only the government did some basic things right? I certainly would not rate China too highly given its authoritarian one-party rule, so don’t get me wrong, but growing at a snail’s pace (except since 1991 broadly, given the much higher rates of growth after the Manmohan reforms) is nothing to boast about. Of course, since you are not one of those below the poverty line, it does not affect you very directly.

In any case, your sentiments about “nature” have more in common with the highly affluent (e.g. the typical Californian liberals) who are more concerned about the exaggerations by the likes of Rachel Carson (whose arguments were directly responsible for the resurgence of malaria in Sri Lanka and elsewhere in the 3rd world and thousands of deaths, where the governments discontinued the use of DDT on her advice). It is interesting to note that the US now has far more land under forest cover than in 1900, because the country developed rapidly and could afford to stop the wasteful exploitation of forests and timber; also note that up to a fifth of air pollution in India is caused by poor households burning firewood for cooking. That is, there is no necessary relationship between economic development and stressed environments; indeed, it is the reverse, where lack of economic growth (eg. most of Africa) or lack of good governance (USSR, China) has led to
poor environment records.

Urumqi and Tibet have absolutely nothing to do with economic growth, and everything to do with rabid Chinese Han nationalism (which has replaced Marxism-Leninism as the legitimating ideology for the one-party state).

Anyway, let not empirical facts get in the way, will you!

KD: You missed my point. The Chinese believe that a higher standard of living is enough to keep the ethnic minorities happy. Apparently it’s not.
So I am indicating that the mindless pursuit of GDP as suggested by Wolf is not what’s good for us.
We have a large number of ethnic minorities who are not happy. Most prominently the Kashmiri Muslim who, like the Uighur has been fed massive doses of subsidy.
India has 13% of the world’s people and 2% of the land.
If we chase China as it is, we are expecting the land to cough up thrice as much.
Chulhas (indigenous wood or charcoal burning stoves) in the dehaat (rural areas) are only a small problem. Our cities are toxic already. More mindless growth will make them even more so.
China wants US standards of living. Should we compete with the Chinese, by implication, we will seek US standards of living.
Not possible. The resources available to us or for that matter the earth are just not enough.
Already both countries are planning captive lines of supply from other countries. Sooner or later these lines will cross/clash.
Look at what China is up to in Africa. Isn’t it nascent colonialism?
Do you think we should do something similar? Lots of people do.
I don’t. I think it will lead to a very explosive situation. I also think that a very explosive situation is building up in the Indian Ocean where planned lines of supply cross.
I don’t say keep people poor and miserable. I think we should stop growing and distribute the available wealth in a better manner. Because, what do we have? A billion people fighting overabundance and a billion fighting poverty.
The Cuban model has much more to teach India than the Chinese one.

TD: The problem of Kashmir is largely the result of the LeT(Lashkar e Toiba) and other terrorist organizations, used by the ISI as a proto-foreign policy instrument, everyone knows that. Read your own country’s best intelligence reports!
It is not the outcome of some generalized “mindless pursuit of GDP growth”, whatever that is supposed to mean. I for one, and most of Singapore’s 4.8 million people, are extremely grateful for high GDP growth rates in Singapore, which meant for me the difference to my family not having to sleep all in one room, to be reasonably sure that our children do not get cholera, and the many common killer diseases that were common in my lifetime. It is precisely the lack of GDP growth in vast areas of Africa, Asia and L. America that lead to the strife, suffering and violence in these parts of the world. For heaven’s sake, just compare Gujarat to Bihar, in your own national backyard!

This is an ongoing debate in India not only between these two friends, but in every possible forum where concerned Indians are trying to come to grip with a juggernaut that seems to be rolling in a non inclusive direction. Martin Wolf’s suggestions are valid as are KD’s conerns which find a lot of resonance in India. TD’s defense has many takers in India too.

India’s favourite pastime is to argue. A Nobel Laureate wrote a book about it called “The Argumentative Indian” Please do use the link to understand why we argue.

My own take? We have been bungling along for 62 years. As Martin Wolf says, we have come to where we are, despite our political and bureaucratic management. Hindus call this land “Pavithra Bhoomi”, meaning Sacred Land. For thousands of years, people have been praying, conducting religious rites, performing pilgrimages etc and may be, God is protecting this land from total destruction by our managers. I think that we will continue to muddle along and survive.

I salute the friendship between these two stalwarts.

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