"A woman", said my eldest sister "sets the tone of a household. If she bickers and picks on small things, so do the other family members in the house. If she has a small mind and does khick-khich all the time, then that is how the children will behave. If she is magnanimous and open, she will set the pace of how the children should behave. A woman leads by example."
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And so it has been.
And so it shall be.
I was lucky to grow up in a joint family where my eldest aunt - the eldest of the 3 sister-in-laws who lived together for 15 years - set the pace for the environment in which we grew up. The 3 brothers were never involved in any business together, though they did share their investment ideas. There was no inherited wealth to fight over. The brothers had their education and they built what they had from scratch. Most of our meals were eaten together - even after we had separate kitchens.
And around that dining table came the small lessons of life: the horrors of the Emergency and loss of freedom of speech, Nixon and the Watergate tapes and how governments can lie and cheat, the falling value of the Indian rupee in the 1970's and 1980's as politicians dug deeper into a misguided economic agenda, the growth of the black economy industrialists willingly bribed willing-to-be-bribed politicians and bureaucrats.
And then there were the bigger lessons of life learnt around the dining table: the food you loved, you offered to the niece first. The mithai sent by a client or a patient, was placed on the table for everyone to share. The chilled, peeled oranges served with salt and pepper was offered first to the nephew. The radio and the gramophone record player were there for everyone to use. The kitchen was open 24 hours. Friends would drop in with no warning, and that was welcomed. No door to any bedroom was ever closed. But by the angle of the "degree of openness" of the door, I could judge which uncle or aunt or cousin was free to meet - and who was busy.
And each sister-in-law had her freedom. Even though this was still the India of the 1960's. My late grandfather encouraged his youngest daughter-in-law to study further and become a college professor. There was no touching of the feet to show respect - the gratitude was in your heart and in your actions. My late mother was not educated but she was generous and loving. She liked going out and had the social drink and the social smoke. My grandfather never admonished her for adopting these "modern ways". And neither was my mother out to prove the famous line from the Virginia Slims advertisement: "you've come a long way, baby". If any family member needed medical attention, my mother was the first to accompany them to the doctor or to the hospital for tests.
The sisters-in-law did what they wished to - work or stay at home - but the home was their responsibility. And they knew it and fulfilled their duty. The children are what they are because the women set the tone of the household. The women led by example.
The evolution of a household
But times have changed.
The joint-family is breaking up into smaller sub-families. The realities of higher property prices, smaller footage available per person as families expand, and more square footage required by each family member for their own needs have begun to strain the physical boundaries of space. Nirvana is now being priced per square foot - and to that you need to add the price you pay for the air around you.
And then there is the emotional desire to have "my own space" as the younger, more educated women get married and start their own families. How un-feminist would it be to live in the same house as the in-laws? What would the friends from the MBA class say? This "bahu" wants her freedom from any "saas".
We used to have one TV in a household and we all sat together and watched Chitrahaar (the precursor to the more modern version of the VJ), Rajni (a very different reality show), Agatha Christie, or Perry Mason in black and white. Today, social pressures insist we need our own plasma TVs in our bedrooms. We are free to select personalised junk for our own entertainment.
And the children need space to store their i-pods, i-macs and i-pads.
Yes, we are a generation of "i" people and we need all the space around us to do what we think is best for our immediate needs. A successful parent, many believe, is one who can deliver all these gizmos to the children in their pursuit of the highest score on their Wii games. Oh, yes, and that ticket for the Harvard MBA and the guaranteed job with Goldman, Sachs.
That is not to say that women must sit at home and focus on the household and be denied an equal opportunity to work. My eldest aunt studied law and worked with her husband in his law firm. This was in the 1960's. I don't think she did it for the bonus. Or for the recognition to be photographed, hands clasped to each elbow, for some business magazine. Or for a right to equal pay and the need to break some sort of glass ceiling. She did it because she enjoyed it.
But now the focus is on equal outcomes for women. A report by Dir. Catherine Hakim, a sociologist at the London School of Economics, quoted in the Daily Star and carried by DNA says, "Equal opportunities policies have succeeded in giving equal access for women to the labour market. People are confusing equal opportunities with equal outcomes, and there is little popular support for the kind of social engineering being demanded by feminists and legislators".
An evolution of a nation
And as the household evolved, so did the nation.
From the innocence of Independence came the ideals of a Constitution that promised equal opportunity. The outcome would be what you made of the equal opportunity.
There was the initial utopian view of a nation that would be happiest in its villages. There would be small farms, small communities, and small needs. We would all be spinning our own cloth, growing our own food, and living in a commune. Simplicity would be the new god.
That simplicity was quickly discarded for an economic model which, rightfully, focused on industrialisation to bring a backward India out of a fate-driven accepted misery. Initially, the resources for the industrialisation effort came in from the government-owned public sector and the private sector. By the late 1960's Mrs Indira Gandhi set the tone for the country by nationalising many industries, including the banks and the insurance companies - the owners of pools of capital that act as financiers of every economic activity.
But Mrs Gandhi accepted corruption as a by-product of the social good. "Corruption", she proclaimed, "is an international phenomena." The fact that Mrs Gandhi did not think corruption was a big deal but just a part of growing up, effectively gave cover to those alleged to be corrupt. Though governments changed rapidly, the socialist machine grew into a monster under successive governments. The concern for the people - or even pretending to care for the people - disappeared. As the previous Home Minister put it after the terrorists attack in Bombay, "badon shairon mai choti choti baat hoten hai (small things happen in big cities) ". And a previous Chief Minister took a film producer to see the carnage in the south Bombay hotels.
Equal opportunities were no longer relevant, but unequal outcomes for those with political connections were the focus.
Very briefly, in the 1980's, Rajiv Gandhi made corruption an issue until the gun of Bofors was aimed at him. Raja V. P. Singh was then the new flag bearer of a cleaner India but, after he revived the Mandal Commission report to enforce equal opportunity, he lost the support of a mostly Brahman intelligentsia that did not support equal opportunity and the potential for equal outcomes.
By 1991, India was bust and its prescription for survival was the typical medicine given by the IMF to bankrupt nations: devalue your currency and cut tariffs. It worked. And India is now flooded with gadgets and gizmos that people of my generation who reached adulthood in a closed, walled India could only dream of.
But with a bigger economy, came bigger scandals. Sidharth Bhatia has penned an excellent piece on the But with Big Scams, the Big Brother, and Big Boss that dominates this Bigger India we live in.
Meanwhile, as proof of the power for equal opportunities to women, India is run by a President (who happens to be a woman) and by the head of the Congress party (who also happens to be a woman). The head of the Congress party, as is common knowledge, runs the country and the Prime Minister - a humble, honest, and flexible man with a great ability to always look the other way - acts at her behest.
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Can Sonia Gandhi set the tone?
History has shown that Marx-inspired socialism or Mao-induced communism were bad goals, because they spoke about equal outcomes.
But can we set the framework for equal opportunities?
Can we have a woman set the tone for the household? If India is a large joint family, are President Pratibha Patil and Congress President Sonia Gandhi setting the tone for ensuring that Indians have a right to equal opportunity?
As woman, they have climbed to the highest offices and positions of power possible in India. Not that every woman who climbed to power has necessarily achieved great things for their country. Imelda Marcos in the Philippines, Evita Peron in Argentina, and Indira Gandhi in India are not the best examples of "equal opportunity". Their cabinets and ministries were allegedly filled with henchmen - and women - distributing the national wealth into private coffers.
The question is: will the two woman leading India learn from the errors of their predecessors? Will they have the advantage of having read the history books or will they succumb to populist speeches with little action and continue to foster the unequal opportunity that haunts a corrupt India?
Sonia Gandhi recently gave a speech in New Delhi in which she said: "Graft and greed are on the rise. The principles on which independent India was founded, for which a generation of great leaders fought and sacrificed their all, are in danger of being negated."
Great words, indeed, for the discussion around the dining table but here are some facts to chew on.
A few weeks after taking charge as the Telecom Minster, Kapil Sibal announced that the CAG report's monetary conclusions are nonsense. Yes, there are some lapses, he agrees, in the procedures but there was no economic loss.
To quote from the Executive Summary of the CAG Report. "In January 2008, Department of Telecommunications issued 120 new licences for unified access services on the same day. These licences were issued at price which had been discovered in 2001. Issuance of 120 licences in just one day and at a price discovered in 2001 has drawn the attention of Media, Parliament and informed members of the civil society. Questions have been raised regarding the transparency in the allocation process and the failure in maximization of revenue generation from the allocation of spectrum, which is a national asset. This department had been receiving innumerable references from Members of Parliament and other sources repeatedly, questioning the allocation process and the price fixed for such allocation. The claim in each such reference is that ineligible applicants seem to have been granted licences and at a price which appeared far below what has been perceived to be the appropriate market price in 2008. It was in this context that this department felt that there was a sufficient justification to review the entire process of issuance of licences, award of spectrum and the implementation of the UAS (Unified Access Services) regime. The need for doing so was further justified as six years have passed since the introduction of the UAS regime in 2003."
The CAG report admits that it is difficult to correctly assess the precise loss to the exchequer, but raises a fair point: a company like Unitech, with no background in mobile services, gets a license and - within a few months - sees the valuation of the licence surge to Rs. 9,100 crore. And this was not due to any significant customer base but, largely, the value of the spectrum it won.
Unitech acquired the license for Rs 1,658 crore in January 2008 (at the peak of the Indian stock market) and sold an equity stake in the company during the global stock market meltdown at 5.5 times what it paid for the license.
One would imagine that buying something at the peak of the market should have resulted in a loss when sold at the time of the global financial crises. The entire world was in a financial meltdown (Unitech had to sell such a high stake in the telecom venture, as it had limited money to fund the roll-out of the services) and asset prices of even the listed cellular companies like Bharti had collapsed. So, if priced correctly, the value of the license obtained in November 2007 and paid for in January 2008 should have declined by the end of 2008. Unless, of course, the full value of the licence was not paid for at the peak of the market in January, 2008.
The CAG report goes on to say, "Such huge equity infusion by the investor company was a price that they paid for 2G spectrum which was allocated to Unitech, a Company with no experience in telecommunication sector, at a throw away price by the DoT. The value which should have accrued to the public exchequer went as a favour to the new licensees in the form of huge capital infusion for enriching their business."
The CAG report goes on to say: "The attempt by Audit is only to highlight that the price discovery of spectrum through a market mechanism would have fetched a much higher value and thus increased receipts for Government. Non discovery of Price of spectrum through competitive bids/auction in 2007-08 has resulted in huge undue advantage to some of the newly incorporated firms with little or no experience in the Telecom Sector. This is particularly so when the Government of India had followed the market mechanism to determine value of cellular mobile licenses since early 1990s."
But the new telecom minister feels that there was no loss and, presumably, any better procedures would not have given any more money.
Montek Singh Ahluwalia wants transparency in the decisions of the environment ministry, now seen as a roadblock to wealth and riches by India's old-age and new-age greedy crony capitalists, and being sold to us mortal fools as a roadblock to progress.
Kalmadi and his colleagues were raided 2 months after allegations that the Commonwealth Games cost India an extra Rs 70,000 crore due to corruption.
Clearly the children around the dining table of this Congress clan have not been taught any humility. Nor do they have any respect for the khandaan that is India. So, will the women of the house step in and set the tone of how the country should be run? Or will they be happy to make speeches and tell the people how important it is to be Proud of India. We don't need social engineering that will try to give us the equal outcomes, all we need is to know that there is equal opportunity - and no corruption in the system.
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