Category Archives: India

Mr. Bachchan, Tirupati and Indian Charity

Is anyone else disgusted by the recent news item mentioning that Mr. Amitabh Bachchan will be donating jewelry worth Rs. 1 Crore to the Tirupati Temple thanking the lord for his quick recovery?

Now what Mr. Bachchan does with his money is his own business – but I am entitled to my opinion because it is an indicator of the rot that has set in the moral and religious values of India. In a country like India, where tens of millions are still below the poverty line, it is an abomination that temples like Tirupati keep getting richer. In fact, I did a quick back of the envelope calculation and came up with this:

Money it takes to feed a person/day

Rs. 50

Number of days in a year

365

Cost of food/year

Rs. 18,250

Money donated by Bachchan

1,00,00,000

Number of people who could have been fed for an entire year for that much money

550

Five hundred and fifty people getting food in their stomachs for an entire year? And he chose to get yet another piece of jewelry for a statue that already is decked up to its gills? Look at this picture and tell me if there is any need for any more jewels? I know that the Tirupati Balaji organization runs some charitable organizations. If at all he had to donate money, could he have not donated it to those organizations? Does he think that God will be happier getting a diamond wristband compared to feeding poor people?

India is woefully inadequate when it comes to philanthropy and it is made worse by such donations to temples because it makes people think that donating to temples and donating to charitable organizations is the same.

From my personal experience, temples in India are rarely involved in their communities and rarely take up any kind of social work in their vicinity. There are honorable exceptions to that statement which includes some of the larger temple trusts, though what percentage of the funds that they receive is actually used for social work is anybody’s guess.

But by and large, in towns big and small across the country, how many pundits have you seen who go around teaching the lessons of Gita to disadvantaged people in their communities? Most of the times, they are either busy decking up the statues in their temples or busy doing special Pujas for the privileged to petition God on their behalf to write off their bad deeds. So the money given to temples, more often than not, goes to creating bigger statues or bigger temples or bigger bellies of the pundits.

As for Mr. Bachchan, it just reinforces my belief that he is as bad a human being as good as he is an actor. The entire country was praying for him when he was in the hospital and this is how he repays? By having a tete-a-tete with possibly the most corrupt and rich (don’t they always go hand in hand) temple organization in the country?

Is India ready to be a great world power?

Is India ready to be a great world power? Is she ready to stake her claim to world leadership in its true sense and not in the pseudo-self-congratulatory manner of the era of Nehru and later Indira Gandhi in the form of non-aligned movement (blind leading the blind)? Going by events in the past half a decade and specifically post 9/11, the answer is a resounding no.

Today’s New York Times has an article by Tom Friedman called “The Axis Of Order?” in which he suggests that India along with Russia and China form the axis of order which can work to contain the nuclear ambitions of Iran and it is in their self interest to do so but will they step up to the plate and do the big hitting?

That the question is being asked at all is itself a testimony to India’s rapid rise during the past few years as an economic power. This rise is often attributed to India’s formidable intellectual capital. If you cared to look a little deeper, this growth is not a result of any initiative from the Indian government or even the Indian people in a collective sense. Indian government did not set out in 1995 with a master plan to say, “Hey, let’s make sure that by the end of 2005 India is one of leading countries in the field of information technology.” The start of economic liberalization by the Rao government in 1991 itself was forced by India’s dire economic situation at the time (remember Indias’ mortgage of gold to pay the bills?).

In fact, most of this growth happened due to a fortunate confluence of favorable circumstances. Y2K was a fruit ripe for the picking by Indian IT companies to do work which the US software companies were not interested in touching with a barge pole at that time. Money from that work acted as a catalyst in igniting an era of unprecedented growth for Indian IT companies which was helped in no small part by the fact that a country of more than a billion people is bound to produce its share of smart people; add low cost to the mix and you have a potent mix of fuel that blasted Indian economy with the required escape velocity to get out of the “Hindu rate of growth”.

What exceptional role was played by the government in this whole period? In fact, if you do not consider some of the tech savvy local leaders like Naidu, the government tried its best to kill the goose that laid the golden egg for India. This has been evident in the way growth and infrastructure has been managed in cities like Banglore, Gurgaon and Noida and the shabby manner in which some of the Indian IT CEOs have been treated by the politicians. This goes to show that India’s rise as a major economic power was mostly due to effort of private citizens and as I said earlier, favorable circumstances.

In the past five years or so, as India was staking its claim to be an economic superpower, circumstances were also right for her to become a political superpower, at least at a regional level. Post 9/11, India was in a unique position of having a large Muslim population that was not in the least extremist like their Middle Eastern counterparts. India was also suffering from Islamic terrorism fueled from across the border and India had also suffered at the hands of Taliban. Moreover, like the US, India was a truly multicultural democracy. It was a great opportunity to take leadership role in the region, to join hands with the US and take Afghanistan to the path of a democracy. That it would have helped lessen Pakistan’s role in the region would have been an added bonus. But India leaders let it slip by. Something similar happened before and during the Iraq war. As the middle-east was getting reshaped, India, despite having a huge stake in the region stepped back and watched from sidelines and as the recent terror attack in Banglore, which has been linked to Saudi Arabia, has shown, the price for inaction can be huge for the country.

And finally, the rapidly unraveling Iranian nuclear issue offers yet another opportunity to India to claim political leadership in this region of the world. Last time when India voted with the US to refer Iran to Security Council, there was a big domestic political backlash especially from the left parties. So the chances of Indian politicians mustering up the courage to say the right thing are very bleak indeed.

This brings us to Thomas Friedman’s question. Yes it is in India’s best interest to not to have a nuclear Iran but political leadership, unlike the economic one is an entirely different ball game (it is the difference between Lexus and the olive tree to use Tom’s favorite metaphor). To gain political leadership, private citizens, no matter how earnest and hard working, are powerless to make any decisions. The initiative has to come from the political leaders, but going by past experience of India’s politicians, don’t count it.

Devon Avenue, Chicago

Amrit’s post on the Writing Cave asking if we hate ourselves going by the amount of filth lying around in Indian cities compelled me to dust-off (no pun intended) my own mail on something similar from my previous defunct blog and re-post it here.

Have you ever been to Devon Avenue, Chicago? No? Well, don’t feel bad because you’ve not missed much. If you are in India then just go to your neighborhood market. If you are on the east coast in the US, just go to Jackson Heights. If you are on the west coast in the bay area just step out of your house (well, that maybe an exaggeration – plus I’ve never been to bay area so I have second hand knowledge at best).Well, the point being that what it is about our civic sense as a nation that we just cannot conduct ourselves in an orderly fashion? The entire road called the Devon Avenue (well half of it is called Gandhi Marg and the other half Jinnah Marg) is so dirty and so littered with flying debris and “pan peeks” that is hard to believe that your are still in Chicago. Just about two miles east is the beautiful Lake Shore drive and then there is Devon Avenue. As long as we are in the company of people from other nationalities we maintain a modicum of civic behavior and cleanliness. But the moment we are surrounded by our own-we think that it is alright to break rules, that it is alright to honk, that it is alright to spit on the road.

I’ve been to a few other places in the US that are dominated by people from a particular ethnic background or nationality. There are these small towns in Wisconsin called New Glarus and Monroe that mostly have people from Swiss background. Then there is Holland in Michigan with people from, you guessed it, Holland. And each of these cities is so beautiful and well kept and great tourist spots. The only reason why anyone ever goes to Devon Avenue is for cheap groceries and cheap Indian food and wants to get the hell out of here ASAP. What a sad reflection on our country!