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India’s new global (i)con

india Updated: Nov 20, 2009 22:26 IST
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Jai Ho! Madhu Koda, who is causing much heartburn, has actually solved a problem for us. He has uncovered the answer to the great tribal question, which has bedevilled us since Independence. The answer is that there is no tribal question. If a Ho tribal who was once dismissed as a simpleton can engineer a Rs 4,000 crore heist almost single-handedly, the noble savage theory has to be a sentimentalist myth. We now know that tribals are not a necessarily fragile, endangered species. They are quite capable of learning mainstream skills and may actually surpass more fortunate communities in working the levers of power.

Koda went by established tradition. As chief minister of Jharkhand, he siphoned off funds and did very little for development. Exactly what a succession of leaders in that region have done, from the time when Jharkhand was a utopian dream. The only difference is that this time, it was a tribal doing it — on a stupendous scale.

Koda robbing the public kitty is a child of hallowed tradition. Koda rapidly globalising his ill-gotten gains is master of the future. He is believed to have expatriated more than half his assets through hawala to fund business assets in Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia and Dubai — and even a mine in Liberia. He has globalised the Indian black market. In comparison, his betters who stash it away in Swiss banks look like wimps.

We, who believe we are his betters, are not adapting to globalisation half as well. We seem to regard it as a modern form of conquest, rather than a way of life. Years ago, ITC fought off a takeover bid by British American Tobacco by appealing to nationalistic emotions, suggesting that BAT was a barbaric foreign invader. Conversely, we celebrated the Tata takeover of Corus, Land Rover and Jaguar as if they were post-colonial battle honours. And now we are disturbed to learn that Tata makes 65 per cent of its moolah overseas and so, Ratan Tata could be legitimately succeeded by a foreign national. Wonder how that is going down with the politicians who make a living out of highlighting Sonia’s foreign origins.

We often fail to think through the implications of globalisation. Like, we are imposing the same environmental standards as Europe. A very necessary step, given that the air in Delhi these days is the consistency of consommé and it’s more toxic than in the bad old days before CNG. But the undermanned and under-equipped pollution control authorities are in no position to enforce the new rules.

Even if they were, the implications are long-tailed. The semi-organised, unorganised and anarchically disorganised sectors are major polluters, but they provide a living to many more workers than formal industry. So the government has delicately sidestepped the issue of implementation, which will require new legal powers. Which, again, will not reduce pollution a whit but become a new revenue stream for all the midget wannabe Kodas infesting the corridors of power.

You know, maybe the angst about Koda owes to size envy. His take is only a drop in the ocean of loot, but this precocious tribal has raised the per capita bar. And people much more fortunate than him, who have been skimming for generations, are feeling small.

Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine

The views expressed by the author are personal