Column: Tell me I am mad

Written by Surjit S Bhalla | Updated: Jun 22 2013, 11:12am hrs
When I woke up this morning

Secularism was on my mind

So I went to Nitish

Just to ease my pain

(With due apologies to the We Five, You were on my mind).

If I had enough hair, I would tear it out. Several events of the last few daysI am just not able to understand. See if you can.

Top of my madness list is the behaviour of Nitish Kumar, Bihar chief minister and wannabe Prime Minister. Everybody wants to be PM, just like everybody must get stoned. So that is not the problem. The issue is the reason given for Nitish to be a born-again secularist. After being a pseudo secularist for the last 17 years (being pseudo comes with the territory of being with the BJP), Nitish appears to have suddenly discovered religion. Though we may never know the real reasons, most people see his actions as something less than rank opportunism. The Congress is short of candidates for PMdoes he possibly see himself as a Congress-front candidate (all puns intended)

Along the same lines have been the Congress-friendly medias response to Mr Advanis tantrums. The most amusing aspect about the Sonia is happy networks was their projection of Advani as the ultimate secularist. The man singly responsible for Babri Masjidwhich then led to the Mumbai communal riots, which then possibly influenced the Godhra riots. The man who chose disturbing yatras over fasts as his main weapon of political destruction. He is the new Congress icon of secularism And could he be the new President of JD-U

Can we all be honest and forbid the use of the S word in our political discourse Apart from delightfully watching all the Congress leaders and Lalu and Mulayam and now Nitish squirm while they attempt to find a new vocabulary with which to communicate with the masses, the banning of the S word will also help our democracy. The leaders of all stripes will be forced to communicate on issues and not on empty platitudes. So my question to journalists and politicians and spokespersons is: since we get nothing, and actually negative nothings from insipid discussions about secularism, can we ban its usage. If you disagree, call me mad.

Banning the S word will also help in discussing communal riots and mass killings objectively rather than that the Mumbai riots were secular and Godhra riots not secular. There should be an objective comparison between the three major communal events of the last 30 yearsthe pogrom against the Sikhs in 1984, and the communal riots in Mumbai 1992-93 and Godhra, Gujarat, 2002. If Narendra Modi has to be congratulated on any issue, it is in forcing the Indian media to confront the comparison. Let us get some simple facts straight (else call me mad)there is no comparison between the Sikh pogrom and the communal riots. Note: one was a pogrom, the other were communal clashes. The dictionary defines a pogrom as the organised killing of many helpless people usually because of their race or religion. That is what happened in the capital of India in 1984. The army wasnt called in until

5 days after the killing had started. Number of helpless Sikhs killed: close to 8,000 with about 3,000 in Delhi alone. In other words, there were more innocent Sikhs killed in the pogrom in Delhi than in the Mumbai and Godhra riots put togetherabout 2,000 killed composed of about 1,500 Muslims and 500 Hindus. Note the killings of both Hindus and Muslims in Mumbai-Godhraunlike the killing of only Sikhs in the pogrom.

My plea is that we recognise that atrocities have been committed under the reign of both political partiesthe Congress was ruling India and Delhi during both the Sikh pogrom and the Mumbai riots, and Modi was at the helm in Gujarat in 2002. It is time for truth and reconciliation, rather than arrogant holier than thou pronouncements from political leaders. Again, let us shift the debate to governance rather than indulge in vacuous polemics about bad morality.

And then there is the question of terrorism and development fighters. Why is there not a reasonable discussion, let alone a debate, on the destruction to lives, civil liberties and governance by the Taliban in Pakistan and the Naxals/Maoists in India Why do learned intellectuals and politicians of a particular ideological persuasion have a lump in their throat criticising these different groups, both in India and Pakistan Nobody condemns their extraordinary violence outrightit is always qualified. Why Maybe I am mad.

And now for something (almost) completely different. I find the economic debate in India, as conducted by RBI, professionals, and the media, extremely unenlightening. The economy has literally collapsed yet we are not looking for causes and cures. Let me illustrate my problem with a recent quote from the monetary authorities. RBI governor Subbarao at an event in Hyderabad said: Most importantly we also chase monsoon like millions of farmers across the country. So, the monsoon outlook, the monsoon performance is going to be the important factor in determining the RBI policy in the next three months.

We all recognise that food inflation is a major problem in India, and that food inflation has been primarily caused by the misguided and wrong procurement pricing policies of the UPA government. But it is for the first time that I have heard the level of rainfall as determining monetary policy in India or any other country. Given the depressing and depressed state of the Indian economy, no matter what happens to rainfall, the argument is for a cut in the interest rates. Assume for a moment the rainfall is badgrowth declines and there is close to a zero effect on food inflation, since the prices of all the important food items are administered. RBI should cut repo rates to help growth. Assume rainfall is plentiful. Again, not much effect on inflation. But agricultural growth will be up and RBI should I get itRBI should tighten because growth will be too high! Tell me I am mad to think so.

Surjit S Bhalla is chairman of Oxus Investments, an emerging market advisory firm, and a senior advisor to Blufin, a leading financial information company. He can be followed on Twitter, @surjitbhalla