Saturday, 17 July 2010

What a waste of time

If you are an Indian, by now you would have seen the new symbol designed for the Indian rupee. Given the close attentions of my beloved net nanny, I cannot reproduce it , but if you really wish to see it, you can do so here.

This is a small matter, but is so typical and representative of India. Symbolism and pride is wildly disproportionate to reality. Currencies such as the US dollar, the Euro, the Yen, the Pound Sterling, all have their unique symbols. India aspires to be in that league. But the fact is that you don’t join the league by having a symbol; you join that league by having a currency (and by implication, an economy) that is worthy of being there.

With all due respect to the country, and I am an illogically patriotic Indian, the rupee is a basket case. Because, the underlying economy is far from strong. The rupee is still subject to stringent controls, especially on the capital account, and rightly so. The market is this currency is minuscule. Nobody, other than an Indian, really bothers about the Indian rupee.

While “India Shining” is a nice slogan and is in some parts true, the economy has serious problems that are masked by the heady intoxication of decent growth. The fiscal deficit and the national debt are at appalling levels – if India was not growing, it would be closer to Greece. Fiscal irresponsibility, especially in the states, is something that this blogger has frequently moaned about. I am willing to bet that not one state legislator is capable of even spelling fiscal responsibility in any language of his choice – we survive only because we are thankfully blessed with a more enlightened Central Government. Strange must be a country where a “reduction” of inflation to "only 10%” is seen as good news.

This post is a call to India to consider a large dose of humility. We are, but a bit player, in world economics. May be unpalatable and distasteful, but that’s the bare fact. Rhetoric cannot substitute for reality. Global perception of India’s weight is way above what it really is. We love the role of wrecker in chief of the WTO rounds of talks. We bang the drum at Davos. We want to be included in every global forum and want to make as much noise as possible. Much hot air and little substance.

I know this is an overcritical piece. But deliberately so. India has huge strengths. It should put its head down and do the right things economically. It should shun symbolism and achieve real progress. A dose of understated and outstanding performance would do it well. Deng Xiao Ping, a particular favourite, at least economically, of this blogger said “Keep a cool head and maintain a low profile. Never take the lead, but aim to do something big”. Wise words, India would do well to emulate.

The strategy of the country India sees as its main competitor (but to whom India is no more than a flea !) is exactly the opposite. Massive progress, but little symbolism and a head that’s just beginning to rise above the wall. But then India has one huge advantage that will stand it in great stead in the future. I can write such a piece about India. Try doing that in the land of the competitor. No way. Its not just that the powers that be will come down like a ton of bricks. The average Joe doesn’t even think on those lines.

And therein lies the key to the future success of India. But in the meantime can we stop wasting time with useless symbols – like this one of the currency.


Anonymous said...

economically saying...coins make noise..currencies doesnt :D more the value less noisier..put all the symbols u want to..but give me the currency..i am ok with the cash..with or without symbols :D:D :D


Anonymous said...

Absolutely outstanding post ,Ramesh !
Coudn't agree more.The gap between self perception and reality in India is bridged by hype .. and worryingly the rest of the world seems to be playing it up. I sometimes believe it is part of our collective psyche (as a nation and individuals at large)to self promote ..if nobody else acknowledges .
The good news however, is we see sentiments like the one you express finding more and more mind and media space.. which can only be good for the country going forward.. when that happens is of course a Million (new) Rupee question
As for the symbol.. one hopes that this works better for the currency (and country) that the absence of it did !!!

Sabareesan said...

great post ramesh

Ramesh said...

@gils - Not sure if you want to noisy variety or the silent version, but here's wishing you ample quantities of both !

@Sankar - Thanks for your comment. You are very right - it seems to be part of the national psyche, although in Indian culture, lowkeyism and lesser pride are seen as great virtues. Not sure why we have landed into becoming such loud mouths.

@Sabareesan - Thanks. Hope you are doing fine.

zeno said...

You are missing a point! Indians are so proactive.They dont want to be searching for symbol when they reach that league. So just well in advance they pilaanned for the symbol ;)

I would say, this is not a over crtical piece given that 8 Indian states are poorer than Africa's poorest []

I also think, the strength you mention could probably be our weakness! More thinking no action!
I would prefer economic progress rather than the freedom of free thinking.

Just because we have freedom to think,we come up with bizarre thoughts, like telungana separate state, declare few marathi speaking districts of karnataka as union territory until the central government makes a decision and we have maoist menace in 4 states where virtually the Indian government has no control?

kiwibloke said...

Nice post. There is so much of false pride and bravado. I was sitting in Kiwiland when the India Shining campaign had reached it's shrillest crescendo. One of my friends reached out to me and said "Mate, India shining but China is quietly pulling the plug out!" How true. Typical MAFA syndrome (Mistaking Activity for Achievement)

Ravi Rajagopalan said...

Having relocated to the motherland after many years overseas - as as someone who never lost his affection for the motherland - I empathise completely with your cry of pain.

I used to think we had a victim culture that was the result of commercial and colonial exploitation by the British. Twenty years of capitalism later, as we boom, this victim culture has morphed into a keen sense of self-righteousness and narrow pride. Not a pleasant sight.

Deepa said...

Exactly my thoughts! Infact someone posted the symbol on facebook saying, 'way to go India' and I was thinking, 'yeah! indeed a long way to go'.

We like to show off all the smart tricks with the ball, but when it actually comes to playing the game... if only we had practised.

We Indians are just turning out be an attention seeking problem child. The child sure has potential but its lack of discipline is its undoing.

Ramesh said...

@zeno - Very wise words. A little less freedom and a little more discipline is exactly what is needed. We have mistaken anarchy for democracy !

@kiwi - Its a small point, but its much better for others to say we are great rather than for us to say it ourselves !

@Dada - Its a dangerous cocktail of pride getting ready to be wounded at the slightest opportunity and self righteousness of a maniacal flavour.

@Deepa - That's a beautiful description - attention seeking problem child. Sums it up exactly.

Preeti Shenoy said...

Despite all of it, I did feel happy to see the symbol :-)

Foolish hopeful optimistic very patriotic proud Indian--me :)

Sandhya Sriram said...

when i linked on the link, the first thought which came to me was Wow. and even though i read through the post and echoed every single point on the blog, the image still remained, maybe beaming less, maybe lil pained.... but still remained.

and then, when i read preeti's comment, preeti echoed something similar.. so someone thinks of me.

But i am not proud or optimistic here. there is a long way to go. but i am reminded of something. its one of those times in my chidhood - my father, was trying to build a house. it wasnt like today where banks come and voluntarily dump you with cash. it used to be a big thing... there was a huge amount of tightening which the family had to go through to get it working and then diwali came. given the circumstance we were in, it felt a completely wasteful expenditure to buy new dresses and crackers. but he still did. it makes you feel good. not that it indicates that you are well to do.. but it just keeps the spirits alive.

Having said this, the sad part of the whole piece is that while keeping spirits alive is one part, Indian politics is not even thinking on its internal cancers leave alone the keamo. and without that, its never gonna ever get anywhere near the league it aspires to get into.

Ramesh said...

@Preeti - That's why you are who you are are. What we boring, pragmatic, pedantic, folks need is that dash of romance and inspiration.

@Sandhya - Double repeat response to Preeti. I see it in a new light now. Wonderful analogy to your father's diwali gifts.

Vishal said...

Dagar mushkil hai par yakeen hai hame, ke ham jaayenge bulandiyo ke falak pe,

Bas ek chhoti si shart hai mere dost, ojhal naa hone dena manzil ko kabhi bhi palak se...

I think that this very symbolism is so typical of India and so deceptive as against reality sometimes. We can take all this as long as we build and capitalize on our own capabilities and competence en route to a world class economy :-)

Ramesh said...

@Vishal - Wah Wah - delighted to see Hindi verse spilling over from your blog to here ! We are, surely, building a world class economy, but along the way it would be good if we made a little less noise.

Anonymous said...

ABSOLUTELY enlightening post.But still the rupee symbol looks very lovely and inviting to take self pride.
Still am also feeling " Vaai sollil veeraradi" for those reasons you had listed.

Ramesh said...

@ambulisamma - Thanks very much.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant Ramesh.I love the way you not only bare the reality but also follow it up with sound judgement."just beginning to rise above the wall" - the super power factor is catching on and India really needs to do something other than symbols to make it big. As usual - much ado about nothing is what keeps us happy. I thought you are out of the loving arms of the net nanny. Guess not yet.

Ramesh said...

@blogueuer - Not yet, but in a short while. I am totally pissed that of all the blogs in the world, I can't find a way to even read, let alone comment, only your blog. What did you to the net nanny that she has singled you for brutal treatment ??

Srivats said...

When the symbol got released, as a design student I got really happy, because for long I have been wanting to have symbol for our Indian rupees, keeping all those things you aside, (I mean it still makes sense and i read about such in the TOI , the day it got released.) I just like the idea of it and it.

I have been wanting to read ur post on this, I mean the day I saw the symbol I epected u would have done a post on that. And just got time to see that :)

Ramesh said...

@Sri - Spoken like a true designer. I don't have the same artistic bent - hence this very prosaic criticism !

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