Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The deficit experiment: mid-term results are in

In October 2010, I wrote of divergent approaches to the economic crisis being followed in the United States and in the UK. Well, the mid-term results are in with the UK officially slipping back into recession.
It seems such a simple principle: in a slump raise spending, not taxes. Cut back on spending and raise taxes once the slump is decisively behind you. Yet, both in the UK and Europe, governments have chosen to focus on deficits, dooming prospects for growth, and scrambling deficit reduction targets as a consequence. It's inexplicable behaviour. I'm waiting for an investigation titled Chronicle of a Recession Foretold.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Jack Nicholson's best films

Jack Nicholson turned 75 two days ago. I've seen every film he has been in since Easy Rider, and some performances predating the road movie that brought him his first Oscar nomination. He was for years my favourite actor, though the many, many bad movies he's acted in have sapped my faith. He's had a weird career, starting with ten years of independent low-budget films of mostly indifferent quality and ending with a string of schmaltzy Hollywood productions. Then again, when was the last time you saw Robert de Niro in a good film?
On the positive side, there was a period in the 1970s when Nicholson produced a succession of stunning roles in superb films. My selection reveals my biases clearly. I'd rather watch an interesting failure like The Passenger than a well-constructed star vehicle like Terms of Endearment. And yes, I unapologetically prefer Michelangelo Anotinioni to James L. Brooks. So here are my top eight Jack Nicholson films:

8: Easy Rider. 1969. Director: Dennis Hopper
Nicholson's very good in it, and the movie's a cultural landmark, but it isn't a particularly good film as a film. One-dimensional and rather unsympathetic protagonists. I'm not surprised Dennis Hopper became fiercely right-wing later in his life. Apparently, the actors were stoned while shooting Nicholson's stirring monologue about civil rights, and the reason Jack stared into space throughout was that he'd burst into giggles every time his eyes met Hopper's or Fonda's.

7: The Shining. 1980. Director: Stanley Kubrick
Another one-dimensional film, but that one dimension's exceptional. The Shining changed Nicholson from an actor who imbued each character with complexity into a bit of a ham. It's a direct line from this role to the Joker in Batman.

6: The Passenger. 1975. Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
The final shot (technically the penultimate one, but it feels final) is legendary, and deservedly so. The extraordinarily complicated take isn't just Antonioni showing off, but mirrors, in its still-haven't-found-what-I'm-looking-for vibe, the emotional state of Nicholson's protagonist who chooses almost arbitrarily to give up his own identity and take on that of a stranger.

5: About Schmidt. 2002. Director: Alexander Payne
Payne and Nicholson maintain a fine balance between farce and seriousness throughout the film, endowing the relationship between the retired bean counter Schmidt and an orphan in Africa called Ndugu (who might not even exist) with a wonderful ambiguity.

4: Reds. 1981. Director: Warren Beatty
Warren Beatty as John Reed, Diane Keaton as Louise Bryant, Jack Nicholson as Eugene O'Neill, and over a dozen interviews with eminences born in the early twentieth century like Will Durant and Arthur Miller. Nicholson is a scene stealer in all his cameos but unlike, say, Broadcast News, Reds has enough substance to absorb the power of his performance and turn it into something beneficial for the film as a whole. Also, the romance at the film's centre holds its own against the epic historical backdrop. Apparently, Nicholson grew infatuated with Keaton during the shoot, but she was seeing Nicholson's best friend Beatty, so an off-screen love triangle mirrored the one on screen. The Beatty-Keaton relationship didn't survive the difficult creation of Reds.
Nicholson appears in this clip from 10.00 onwards:

3: Five Easy Pieces. 1970. Director: Bob Rafelson.
Nicholson manages to capture the angst and frustration of a generation in essaying the character of Bobby Dupea, classical pianist and oil rig worker. American films rarely touch on conflicts between high-brow culture and working class dreariness: it goes too much against the grain of the nation's self-image. 

2: Chinatown. 1974. Director: Roman Polanski
Probably the best film Nicholson's been in, but I've placed it second because his performance in Cuckoo's Nest is superlative. I've watched it six or seven times and could easily watch it six or seven times more.

1: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. 1975. Director: Milos Forman
I wonder how many people today would be sympathetic to Jack Nicholson's Randle McMurphy justifying statutory rape: "She was fifteen years old going on thirty-five, Doc, and she told me she was eighteen, she was very willing, I practically had to take to sewing my pants shut. Between you and me, uh, she might have been fifteen, but when you get that little red beaver right up there in front of you, I don't think it's crazy at all and I don't think you do either. No man alive could resist that, and that's why I got into jail to begin with."

Be that as it may, Cuckoo's Nest remains one of the great anti-authoritarian films, made by a Czech emigre who knew a thing or two about authoritarianism. And Nicholson is incendiary in it, volcanic, so one feels, when his rage boils over that it is just a fraction of the pent up anger within him.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Art, politics and genital mutilation

My friends' Facebook updates are full of shock and horror about Sweden's minister of culture cutting a 'genital mutilation cake'. The first story I read about the cake carried the image above. It struck me as odd that the minister appeared to be feeding the cake to the head of the cake, rather than eating it herself.
I later learned the occasion was a performance by a Swedish artist of African extraction named Makode Aj Linde; his real head was part of the cake installaion, and he screamed everytime a part of his 'torso' was cut.

Once I saw the video, the whole thing made sense to me. The piece is a protest against the history of imperialist racism and the custom of genital mutilation. It's strange to me that even those who've seen the video interpret the performance as racist in intent or effect. One Facebook friend linked to the video with the words, "This is utterly revolting. If this is “freedom of expression” as the article suggests it might be argued, then Sweden (and everyone) is doomed." I, on the other hand, think, "If this is viewed as racist, then art is doomed". OK, that's an exaggeration. I don't really think art is doomed. I only think it's doomed to be misunderstood through dissemination in the media. The way M.F.Husain's painting of Sita and Hanuman was framed in media discussions, for example, it was hard to defend except by reference to an ideal of free expression that neither the Indian constitution nor the majority of India's citizens support. It's weird to see friends who defended Husain expressing disgust at Makode Aj Linde. They still haven't understood how media coverage distorts art's meanings, which was for me the central lesson of the long years of Husain's vilification.
One reason a number of people are repelled by the video is that those cutting the cake, including the minister, laugh through the process. However, that's the way art openings work. There's the context of the event, which is convivial and celebratory. There's also the emotional context created by the art, which is often very different. Just because we sip wine and joke while standing next to images of barbarity doesn't mean those images have failed to convey their true import or that we are insensitive to it. If the art is good, it will stay with us, and our minds will return to it on many occasions in the future when we aren't sipping wine or chatting with friends. Those women cutting into the genital mutilation cake might be laughing, not only because of the event's context but because there's a kind of grotesque slapstick involved in the performance. But you can see some smiles turning uneasy even during the very short run of the video. I have no doubt the artist's screams, and the act of cutting into what seems at one level like a body, created a great deal of discomfiture among those who participated. It may not be evident from the video, but those who've experienced such performances know the slow-burn effect they produce.
So I have no complaints whatsoever about the ethical or political background to the cake cutting. My only objection is that the velvet sponge looks orange rather than blood red.

It's really a bad idea for politicians to get involved with contemporary art: I just don't see the upside. Years ago, the British Council organised a workshop with a group of British and Indian artists. The resulting show was inaugurated by the then Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh. I was in the gallery when he arrived followed by dozens of photogs. On one side of the room hung a massive Subodh Gupta photo-portrait showing the artist nude, riding a horse. On the opposite wall hung an equally nude and equally large photo-portrait of a female British artist whose name I can't recall. I noticed Mr Deshmukh glance quickly around the room as he walked through the door, and immediately recognise the potential disaster awaiting him: his photograph splashed on the front page of the next morning's papers looking either at a naked man riding a horse or, much worse, a naked White woman splayed on a floor. Obviously, he couldn't glance at either wall even fleetingly as he passed those prints. He moved straight across the room to where the lamp lay waiting to be lit, without seeming deliberately to ignore the art. Once past the minefield, he pretended to take more interest in what was on the walls.
For those brief moments, I admired the man's presence of mind. It isn't easy being a politician in our age. Of course, as Vilasrao Deshmukh knows well, political power offers a number of compensations.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Conversations: Rashid Rana

An introduction to the work of Lahore-based Rashid Rana, which I wrote in 2010, and have uploaded to my blog, Conversations.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Public space, private space, public art, private art

Words extracted from an article published by The National, an Emirati newspaper: "Standing outside the gleaming tower of the Maker Maxity building in suburban Mumbai is a fire-engine-red double-decker bus ... This bus, however, sprouts two stainless steel wings ... A whimsical creation by Mumbai-based artist, Sudarshan Shetty, 50, at an estimated cost of US$250,000 (Dh920,000), this Flying Bus sculpture is arguably India's most significant public art project".
Shetty's Flying Bus has been called a public art work, or art in a public space, by Mumbai Boss, Tehelka and the Telegraph, among other publications. My friend Deepika wrote, in the Economic Times, about Manish Maker, the man who commissioned the Bus: "He has a plan in place for incorporating artworks in the upcoming mall and hotel that will replace the family-owned erstwhile drive-in cinema. These are all public spaces anyone could visit".
A preview of last month's Art Chennai in the Hindu began: "For nine days beginning March 10, art buffs in Chennai are in for a big treat. Teams of artists are likely to take people in public spaces such as shopping malls and railway stations by surprise".
The line introducing the Grand Hyatt's artworks on the hotel's Facebook page reads, "Grand Hyatt Mumbai, houses one of the finest collections of commissioned art in a public space".
I can see why people think of malls, hotels and the courtyards of office complexes as public spaces, and art placed in such locations as public art. These locations charge no entry fee, and are visited by thousands of people each week, unlike art galleries which get few footfalls outside of opening evenings. The Grand Hyatt, though, is no Shivaji Park. Or Millennium Park, since we're speaking of public art.

Sudarshan Shetty is among the finest artists of his generation, he is represented by an excellent gallery, and Manish Maker is a discerning collector. None of these things make the Flying Bus a public art project. I've been to Maker Maxity fairly often. It's one of the most expensive blocks of office space in the country. Alert securitymen at its gates make sure nobody gets in unless they have official business or want to eat overpriced pizza.
The confusion among journalists and affluent Indians about the nature of public space (the poor know very well that shopping malls and five-star hotels are privately owned and rigorously exclusionary) is sad. It means those among us best equipped to demand an expansion of public spaces and institutions are likely to believe the opening of a new mall actually constitutes such an expansion.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Conversations: Sudhir Patwardhan

A conversation with one of my favourite artists, Sudhir Patwardhan, focussing on two canvases that are among the best things painted by an Indian in the 21st century. The interview was published in Art India magazine in late 2001 or early 2002.


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Arundhati Roy, colonialism and the spectre of Marx

A number of respondents to my remarks on Arundhati Roy's Capitalism: A Ghost Story (see previous post) have accused me of not seeing the forest for the trees. No matter this or that error or mistaken detail, they say, her larger, abstract argument is valid. NGOs and charitable foundations have agendas (Hate using that word since, pedantically, agenda is plural of agendum, but 'NGOs have agenda' will come across as a typo. I have sworn, however, never to use criteria as a singular noun.) that are commonly determined by sponsors who are commonly anonymous and commonly fronts for governments.
I have no problem accepting the thesis outlined above, and neither, I believe, will anybody else reading it. It is verifiably, demonstrably true, but it is not what Arundhati Roy is claiming. She tries to knit a grand conspiracy in which governments, businesses and NGOs efficiently combine to serve the cause of Capital and Empire. The small errors in her argument are important because it is through these that she tries to weave in the ends of the fabric, and tugging at them causes the entire pattern to fall apart.
There were a couple of sentences from Roy's article that stuck in my mind, and I want to return to them as a starting point for a discussion about colonialism, postcolonial ideas and Marxism:

The era of the Privatisation of Everything has made the Indian economy one of the fastest growing in the world. However, like any good old-fashioned colony, one of its main exports is its minerals.
India’s new mega-corporations—Tatas, Jindals, Essar, Reliance, Sterlite—are those who have managed to muscle their way to the head of the spigot that is spewing money extracted from deep inside the earth.

Are minerals among India's main exports? The mining sector contributes only between 2 and 3% of GDP, so it's hardly central to the economy. Not quite what sugar was to the Caribbean or oil is to West Asia. We exported 128,000 crore rupees worth of minerals in 2009-10, and our total exports that year amounted to 845,000 crore rupees. OK, you say, that's a substantial percentage of total exports, but there's a catch. The biggest item in that export list is of diamonds, at 85,000 crore rupees. We also imported uncut diamonds worth 75,000 crore, and the same were then exported after being cut and polished. So, the export of minerals actually mined in India was a paltry 43,000 crore rupees, of which 28,000 crore rupees was iron ore. The second largest mineral export was granite at 5,000 crore rupees.
We imported 525,000 crore rupees worth of minerals in the same year, of which crude took a massive slice. But even leaving petroleum aside, India was comfortably a net importer of minerals, with coal and copper being our biggest buys. Now, does that still resemble "any good old-fashioned colony"?
Meanwhile, in the latest recorded year, India exported 290,000 crore rupees worth of software services, equaling nearly seven times our minerals exports (minus those re-exported diamonds) of 43,000 crore rupees. So much for us being a colony exploited for its raw materials. Not that today's major commodity exporters are akin to colonies in any case. Do Qatar, Russia, Australia, South Africa and Argentina seem like colonies to an impartial observer?

Roy hints at a widely accepted story about the economics of colonialism, a story told by my school history books and one seemingly accepted by Left, Right and Centre in Indian politics. It goes like this: India was a land famed for its artisans and manufacturing skills. The British discouraged indigenous Indian manufacturing and turned this country into a supplier of raw materials and a market for British finished goods. The textile industry is the paradigmatic example of this process: India's long-standing position as a world leader was undermined by imperial restrictions on sales, cotton was shipped from India to Lancashire and other British factory towns, and finished cloth produced in those places sold back to India.

Karl Marx was among the first to understand and condemn the process then underway. he wrote:
It was the British intruder who broke up the Indian hand-loom and destroyed the spinning-wheel. England began with driving the Indian cottons from the European market; it then introduced twist into Hindostan, and in the end inundated the very mother country of cotton with cottons. From 1818 to 1836 the export of twist from Great Britain to India rose in the proportion of 1 to 5,200. In 1824 the export of British muslins to India hardly amounted to 1,000,000 yards, while in 1837 it surpassed 64,000,000 of yards. But at the same time the population of Dacca decreased from 150,000 inhabitants to 20,000. This decline of Indian towns celebrated for their fabrics was by no means the worst consequence. British steam and science uprooted, over the whole surface of Hindostan, the union between agriculture and manufacturing industry.

Unlikely though it might seem, the writer of the Communist Manifesto was, between 1852 and 1863, the European correspondent of the New-York Tribune. His colleague Engels also contributed occasionally to the American rag. The passage quoted above, and most of Marx's other writing about India, appeared in columns written for the Tribune, which occasionally reveal a witty side to a man generally viewed as formidably stern (It's the facial hair does it):
That there is in India a permanent financial deficit, a regular over-supply of wars, and no supply at all of public works, an abominable system of taxation, and a no less abominable state of justice and law, that these five items constitute, as it were, the five points of the East Indian Charter, was settled beyond all doubt in the debates of 1853, as it had been in the debates of 1833, and in the debates of 1813, and in all former debates on India. The only thing never found out, was the party responsible for all this.
There exists, unquestionably, a Governor-General of India, holding the supreme power, but that Governor is governed in his turn by a home government. Who is that home government? Is it the Indian Minister, disguised under the modest title of President of the Board of Control, or is it the twenty-four Directors of the East India Company? On the threshold of the Indian religion we find a divine trinity, and thus we find a profane trinity on the threshold of the Indian Government.

Marx saw, as early as 1853, an emerging contradiction within Britain with respect to India. The extract below is long, but worth reading carefully, for it contains an analysis that has eluded most post-colonialists, and resulted in a skewed view not only of imperialism but of the relationship between Empire and Capital.
During the whole course of the 18th century the treasures transported from India to England were gained much less by comparatively insignificant commerce, than by the direct exploitation of that country, and by the colossal fortunes there extorted and transmitted to England. After the opening of the trade in 1813 the commerce with India more than trebled in a very short time. But this was not all. The whole character of the trade was changed. Till 1813 India had been chiefly an exporting country, while it now became an importing one; and in such a quick progression, that already in 1823 the rate of exchange, which had generally been 2/6 per rupee, sunk down to 2/ per rupee. India, the great workshop of cotton manufacture for the world, since immemorial times, became now inundated with English twists and cotton stuffs. After its own produce had been excluded from England, or only admitted on the most cruel terms, British manufactures were poured into it at a small and merely nominal duty, to the ruin of the native cotton fabrics once so celebrated. In 1780 the value of British produce and manufactures amounted only to £386;152, the bullion exported during the same year to £15,041, the total value of exports during 1780 being £12,648,616, so that the India trade amounted to only 1-32 of the entire foreign trade. In 1850 the total exports to India from Great Britain and Ireland were £8,024,000, of which cotton goods alone amounted to £5,220,000, so that it reached more than 1/8 of the whole export, and more than 1/4 of the foreign cotton trade. But the cotton manufacture also employed now 1/8 of the population of Britain, and contributed 1/12th of the whole national revenue. After each commercial crisis the East Indian trade grew of more paramount importance for the British cotton manufacturers, and the East India Continent became actually their best market. At the same rate at which the cotton manufactures became of vital interest for the whole social frame of Great Britain, East India became of vital interest for the British cotton manufacture.
Till then the interests of the moneyocracy which had converted India into its landed estates, of the oligarchy who had conquered it by their armies, and of the millocracy who had inundated it with their fabrics, had gone hand in hand. But the more the industrial interest became dependent on the Indian market, the more it fell the necessity of creating fresh productive powers in India, after having ruined her native industry. You cannot continue to inundate a country with your manufactures, unless you enable it to give you some produce in return. The industrial interest found that their trade declined instead of increasing. For the four years ending with 1846, the imports to India from Great Britain were to the amount of 261 million rupees; for the four years ending 1850 they were only 253 millions, while the exports for the former period 274 millions of rupees, and for the latter period 254 millions. They found out that the power of consuming their goods was contracted in India to the lowest possible point, that the consumption of their manufactures by the British West Indies, was of the value of about 14s. per head of the population per annum, by Chile, of 9s. 3d., by Brazil, of 6s. 5d., by Cuba, of 6s. 2d., by Peru, of 5s. 7d., by Central America, of 10d., while it amounted in India only to about 9d... Besides, they found that in all attempts to apply capital to India they met with impediments and chicanery on the part of the India authorities. Thus India became the battle-field in the contest of the industrial interest on the one side, and of the moneyocracy and oligarchy on the other. The manufacturers, conscious of their ascendancy in England, ask now for the annihilation of these antagonistic powers in India, for the destruction of the whole ancient fabric of Indian government, and for the final eclipse of the East India Company.

It's so obvious in retrospect, but till I read this passage in my late teens, I had swallowed the official story about the Raj lock, stock and barrel. If a nation's citizens are progressively impoverished, and the nation becomes merely a place to grow or dig out raw material to be exported for manufacture elsewhere, that nation and its citizens cannot simultaneously provide a flourishing market for finished goods.

You cannot continue to inundate a country with your manufactures, unless you enable it to give you some produce in return

Roy's vision of neo-imperialism, articulated in an article written a decade ago, mirrors the fallacy Indian history books perpetuate about the Raj:
Across the world as the 'free market' brazenly protects Western markets and forces developing countries to lift their trade barriers, the poor are getting poorer and the rich richer.

I have confronted this idea from a different perspective in an earlier blog post, but in the present context I want to underline the inherent contradiction within it, which Karl Marx's 159 year-old newspaper column exposes: if the poor keep getting poorer, lifting trade barriers is useless, since people on the other side of the divide will be incapable of buying any goods from those nasty Western neo-imperialists.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Annotating Arundhati

Arundhati Roy raises a number of vital issues in her latest polemic Capitalism: A Ghost Story. She's at her strongest when describing the condition of places like Chattisgarh, where corrupt administrations have given over large tracts of land to industrialists through secret agreements; herded sections of the population into concentration camps; and created pro-government militias while branding all protestors Naxalites. Her larger criticism relates to think-tanks, philanthropic foundations and NGOs creating and maintaining a consensus about the way the world's economy ought to be run. I don't believe she's convincingly made the connection between the micro and macro picture. In fact, I find a number of her arguments faulty, error-ridden or plain dishonest. Here's a small sampling of those, with quotes from her essay in italics and my comments below these in normal type.

India’s 100 richest people own assets equivalent to one-fourth of the GDP.

While the figure is shocking, it is also a misleading apples-and-oranges comparison, because 'assets' relate to total wealth, while 'GDP' measures production in a single year.

In India, the 300 million of us who belong to the new, post-IMF “reforms” middle class—the market—live side by side with spirits of the nether world, the poltergeists of dead rivers, dry wells, bald mountains and denuded forests; the ghosts of 2,50,000 debt-ridden farmers who have killed themselves, and of the 800 million who have been impoverished and dispossessed to make way for us.

It is amusing to have Arundhati Roy include herself in the 'middle-class'. She's rich by any standards, a dollar millionaire many times over. There is, of course, a persistent belief among rich Indians that they are only middle-class, and to that extent Roy comes through, for once, as typically Indian.
The passage describes a zero sum game in which 300 million Indians have won at the expense of 800 million losers. There is, however, no evidence that those who are impoverished were better off in the past. India has for millennia been a land where most citizens lived in misery.

The era of the Privatisation of Everything has made the Indian economy one of the fastest growing in the world. However, like any good old-fashioned colony, one of its main exports is its minerals. India’s new mega-corporations—Tatas, Jindals, Essar, Reliance, Sterlite—are those who have managed to muscle their way to the head of the spigot that is spewing money extracted from deep inside the earth. It’s a dream come true for businessmen—to be able to sell what they don’t have to buy.

Roy focuses on mining throughout the piece, and this passage exposes a major fault line in her argument. Groups like the Tatas and Jindals are not among India's biggest exporters of minerals. They want mining leases to assure themselves of supply to their steel plants. There is a constant tussle, reflected in the minister in charge of mining battling the one in charge of steel, between indigenous manufacturers who want exports restricted and exporters such as Sesa Goa who want license to sell anywhere in the world. Roy's erroneous view of Capitalism as an efficient and single-minded monster cannot capture these conflicts.

... by now we know that the connection between GDP growth and jobs is a myth. After 20 years of “growth”, 60 per cent of India’s workforce is self-employed, 90 per cent of India’s labour force works in the unorganised sector.

Non-sequitur. The first sentence speaks about job growth as a whole, and the second shifts to self-employed and unorganised jobs versus organised ones. Has she considered that GDP growth might create opportunities for self-employed and unorganised workers? Sure, it would be good to have more organised sector employment, but that's prevented as much by outdated labour laws and short-sighted unions as by any failure in the market's functioning.

In the summer of 2011, the 2G spectrum scandal broke. We learnt that corporations had siphoned away $40 billion of public money by installing a friendly soul as the Union minister of telecommunication who grossly underpriced the licences for 2G telecom spectrum and illegally parcelled it out to his buddies.

The CAG's voodoo arithmetic has led to a lot of confusion, and Roy happily takes her place among the befuddled. She says corporations "siphoned away" 40 billion dollars of public money. No, they didn't. The money didn't actually exist. It is an estimate of what the government, in the GAG's view, might have earned, had it auctioned 2G licenses and spectrum, instead of following a first-come-first-served policy. The calculation of presumptive loss is itself seriously apples-and-oranges, using 3G prices as a benchmark to estimate 2G income. What laypeople don't seem to realise is that any money accruing to the government eventually comes from our pockets. If the government 'lost' 40 billion dollars, it was money that the telecom firms would have made back by charging us higher prices. Frankly, I'm happy the money stayed in our pockets and tariffs plunged so low that India ended up with the cheapest calling rates in the world.

Of late, the main mining conglomerates have embraced the Arts—film, art installations and the rush of literary festivals that have replaced the ’90s obsession with beauty contests... The Jindal Group brings out a contemporary art magazine and supports some of India’s major artists (who naturally work with stainless steel).

I was for a couple of years the editor of the contemporary art magazine Roy mentions. It was established before the Jindals owned mines. The Sajjan Jindal Group neither was nor is a 'mining conglomerate', but primarily a steel manufacturing business with interests in power generation. It is also wrong to claim the Jindal Group 'supports some of India's major artists (who naturally work with stainless steel)'. The artist most identified with stainless steel, Subodh Gupta, was part of a workshop in Jindal Steel's Vasind campus a decade ago. He has also featured regularly in Art India magazine. But those are very minor entries in his CV. I don't believe the Jindals have patronised any major, or even minor, artist, in the way, say, Harsh Goenka of the RPG Group has done. The Sajjan Jindal Group, by the way, does not manufacture stainless steel. Jindal Stainless is run by a different branch of the family.

But which of us sinners was going to cast the first stone? Not me, who lives off royalties from corporate publishing houses.

Wow, a moment of self-reflection after a decade and a half of pointing fingers. Though she says she won't cast the first stone, Roy chucks a number of missiles in the course of this diatribe. Since she's in an introspective mood, though, she might consider how her international travel would be possible without steel and oil; and how her home could be lit and her PC booted up without power from either burning coal, building dams, or splitting atoms.

What better way for usurers to use a minuscule percentage of their profits to run the world? How else would Bill Gates, who admittedly knows a thing or two about computers, find himself designing education, health and agriculture policies, not just for the US government, but for governments all over the world?

Bill Gates, who has donated far more than a minuscule percentage of his wealth to his Foundation, was among the most powerful men in the world long before he turned to philanthropy. Just because his foundation designs a few policies doesn't mean he runs the world.

Mohammed Yunus and the Grameen Bank brought microcredit to starving peasants with disastrous consequences.

Some of the sheen has come off the microcredit miracle, no doubt, but to suggest Grameen Bank has been a disaster is surely a mistake. Many of those starving peasants stopped starving as a result of access to credit.

The Ford Foundation established a US-style economics course at the Indonesian University. Elite Indonesian students, trained in counter-insurgency by US army officers, played a crucial part in the 1965 CIA-backed coup in Indonesia that brought General Suharto to power. Gen Suharto repaid his mentors by slaughtering hundreds of thousands of Communist rebels.

These kinds of statements most clearly demonstrate Roy's dishonest mode of argument. There are some chaps studying a course in economics designed by the Ford Foundation in Indonesia. A completely different group of 'elite students' supposedly plays a part in a CIA-backed coup. The details of the coup of 1965 have never been sufficiently revealed, but it appears to have been one faction of the army trying to take over the country and failing. I haven't read anything that suggests 'elite students' played a significant role in the operation or in the slaughter that occurred later. But by bringing anti-insurgent students into the picture, Roy creates a sense in our minds that the economics students have something to do with the coup, and, by extension, that the Ford Foundation was somehow involved in the Indonesian massacres of 1965 and 1966. But all the Ford Foundation had done was set up an economics course. It didn't kill any Communists, nor train anybody to kill Communists, nor even, as far as we can tell, train anybody in economics who later killed Communists.

Eight years later, young Chilean students, who came to be known as the Chicago Boys, were taken to the US to be trained in neo-liberal economics by Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago (endowed by J.D. Rockefeller), in preparation for the 1973 CIA-backed coup that killed Salvador Allende, and brought in General Pinochet and a reign of death squads, disappearances and terror that lasted for seventeen years.

More false history. The programme to train Chileans at Chicago originated in the 1950s. Salvador Allende gained power in Chile in 1970. In no sense or form were students from Chile taken to the US 'in preparation' for the 1973 CIA-backed coup. The Ford Foundation had no more to do with the coup in Chile than it did with the coup in Indonesia.

A conservative estimate of the UID budget exceeds the Indian government’s annual public spending on education.

Apples-and-oranges again. Roy appears to be comparing the UID budget for its entire multi-year rollout to an annual budgetary outlay. To provide a more accurate comparison, here are estimates for 2012-13 announced in Pranab Mukherjee's recent budget:
UID: 14232 crore rupees
Education: 48,781 rupees
Education, moreover, is a State subject, which means the total Indian governmental contribution to schooling is far greater than the 48,781 crores allotted by the Centre.

As US universities opened their doors to international students, hundreds of thousands of students, children of the Third World elite, poured in. Those who could not afford the fees were given scholarships.

The whole point of scholarships is to ensure that deserving students don't get left out just because they aren't part of the elite. Roy manages to twist this honourable aim to make scholarships part of a grand Anglo-American conspiracy to brainwash Third Worlders. "Those who could not afford fees were given scholarships" makes the entire grants process seem so easy from the recipients' perspective.

Armed with their billions, these NGOs have waded into the world, turning potential revolutionaries into salaried activists, funding artists, intellectuals and filmmakers, gently luring them away from radical confrontation, ushering them in the direction of multi-culturalism, gender, community development—the discourse couched in the language of identity politics and human rights.

Actually, for decades the billions poured into education programmes and cultural grants by the American government and its proxies failed to turn potential revolutionaries away from the path of radical confrontation. The real problem was that regimes that tried to do away with the market created far more misery and perpetrated far greater atrocities than the system they set out to replace. Eventually, most intelligent people understood that the practical failures of anti-capitalist governments resulted not only from sanctions, embargoes and CIA-sponsored insurgencies, but also from deep-rooted in-built drawbacks. Roy never acknowledges that long and bitter history of failure, except insofar as she purges her writing of anything that could be construed as a positive alternate vision.

Update, April 2: A couple of friends have pointed out that I come across as condoning the corruption of A Raja, and I can see why they see it that way. The 2G scandal is rather complicated, but, briefly, Raja's corruption involved getting firms licenses that would otherwise not have qualified under the established criteria, and blocking a couple of firms who would have qualified. He needs to be punished for this. My objection is to the idea that his acts constituted one of the greatest scams in India's history, a belief fed by the absurd 40 billion dollar figure the CAG dreamt up. Had the licenses been handed out sticking to procedure, the policy would have been preferrable in many ways to the auctions that are now going to be held for anything from spectrum to mining, following a recent Supreme Court verdict. Auctions tend to drive up prices for licenses to irrational levels, and hurt consumers because the costs are inevitably passed on to them.