- kewal sethi
dialectics about talisman
dialectics about talisman
in the office chamber, in which i found myself in after the new posting, i found a poster, an elegantly done poster, containing the following advice -
"i will give you a talisman. whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man [woman] whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him [her]. will he [she] gain anything by it? will it restore him [her] to a control over his [her] own life and destiny? in other words, will it lead to swaraj [freedom] for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? then you will find your doubts and yourself melt away” – gandhi ji.
i kept thinking about the talisman. and then i removed it from the front wall and had it hung on the back wall where i could not see it. it was because a doubt arose in my mind as to who is the ‘poorest and weakest’ he is referring to? how can she be helped? will helping her going to be beneficial to her in the long run? especially how does this apply to government servants in advising for formulation of the policies of the government, in which position i was supposed to be?
one of the simplest way to help the poorest to become less poor is to give him money. this is what is being done through various schemes of direct help, doles, and subsidies. has this led him to swaraj or has it made him more dependent upon the government which he expects will be a constant source of help? it was under this principle the our batch mate m l mehta persuaded government of rajasthan to launch antoudya scheme which was meant to help the poorest five persons in each village; it was the precursor of many similar schemes all over india in many states. have these schemes uplifted the economy of the poorest and the weakest? the answer will be debatable.
the talisman refers to test if the action will restore her control over her own life. this will rule out, effectively, any help which is merely there to overcome the present difficulties about lack of capacity to control her life. cash assistance, if invested properly, may lead to such control, otherwise if will not be of any use in this respect. any scheme for assistance will have to take this into consideration. how can it be ensured that assistance given is utilised in invest in productive work or profession? the experience so far has not been encouraging.
about the ‘weakest’, the same problem is there. who is he and against whom he has to be helped? perhaps the ‘weakest’ here just refers to the same person’ poorest’ since it is assumed that poorest will also be the weakest unable to defend himself against a richer person. so it comes to the same situation. will this help be temporary or will it be permanent? it is like reservations which were promised for ten years and then have become almost permanent stipulation. the weakest who has become stronger still demands the same privilege for his children and grand children. he refuses to acknowledge that he is no longer ‘the weakest’ had they given up the advantage, the assistance would have passed on to the persons who were weaker than they were. efforts made to bypass such persons have not borne success. the lure of helping the weakest is such that it applies only when you claim to be the weakest. it is not for those who are actually in need of assistance. in fact more and more people want to be considered ‘weak’ or the ‘weakest’ as they will be assured of help then. the talisman has helped them but has not given them the ‘freedom’ which was stated to be the aim of the advice.
next question. how does this talisman apply in determining policies? it is obvious that there can be no law or regulation which will not go against somebody. and that person can always consider himself to be the weakest. take gst for example. it is a tax which applies to everybody. there is no way the weakest or the poorest can be kept in mind while determining the incidence of gst. of course some articles of common use can be exempted from gst - as indeed has been done but then everybody gains by that, not only the weak (financially). so also for determining the fare structure of the railways. as it is, the commuters of mumbai local pay the lowest rate and not all of them are ‘weak’.
in this context, i go by the definition of democracy. after all is said and done, democracy boils down to the maxim ‘greatest good for the greatest number’. whatever is suitable for the vast majority is the best solution for any problem. there will be some who will always crib since personal interests are involved everywhere. take the new education policy. many will be disappointed by the turn of the events. doing away with multitude of organizations to manage higher education cannot be welcome news to many. the threat to some will be felt and it is in the very nature of personnel of outgoing organizations to be unhappy as they will lose their privileges though in course of time, i believe, they will find newer pastures to graze. on the other hand better administered institutions may help a very large number of students and teachers. so who is to be kept in mind?
ultimately the policy should be such as to leave no one poor or weak (though the terms are relative. in united states, a family with four persons with an income of less than $25,750 will be considered poor - figure is for year 2019. in india, with similar income (roughly rs. 5,20,000 on purchasing power parity), he will be in upper middle class. but the policy should also be such as to ensure equity and not assist someone at the cost of another. i believe this equity is much more important than a one directional policy. the talisman may have its utility but it will be limited one. many other factors will have to be considered to reward talent, hard work and dedication.