Making and selling Pakodas and other snacks for living
Chidambaram’s role model
Former Finance Minister Chidambaram deserves Nobel Prize in economics for his outstanding contributions in the field of economics.
I am not joking. I am quite serious.
In an interview to Zee TV on January 19, 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that a pakoda seller earning ₹ 200/- a day should also be considered employed. Chidambaram promptly tweeted (twitter.com/PChidambaram_IN) “By that logic, even begging is a job.” (For the readers abroad, Pakoda is a popular fried snack in India.)
Chidambaram’s critics have lambasted him for mocking the Prime Minister and insulting the poor roadside vendors. However, in my opinion, even if Chidambaram was mocking the PM, his one tweet equating selling pakodas with begging has placed him in the category of great thinkers and economists. He has given a practical solution to the problem of unemployment that leads to poverty and is a major factor responsible for vast disparity between rich and poor.
The problem has been haunting thinkers and rulers since time immemorial. Our epics encouraged charity to the poor and so did several rulers and philanthropic persons. When Karl Marx and his businessman friend Friedrich Engels called upon workers to take over all the means of production and forming dictatorship of proletariat to manage the political and economic affairs, they believed that they had given the ultimate solution to the problem. Brave persons like Lenin and Mao Zedong tried to follow the Marxist path but failed to solve the problem of poverty because their regimes lacked the capacity to manage the means of production for economic growth. The Soviet Union disintegrated. All the independent countries of the erstwhile Soviet Union rejected Marxism. Mao’s successors have preserved their Communist Party to retain unchallenged political power but have discarded Marx’s economic ideas in favour of the Adam Smith’s prescription (in the The Wealth of Nations) that a nation’s wealth – the stream of goods and services – grows when the productive capacity is not controlled.
Now ‘Communist’ China and democratic capitalist countries have almost the almost identical economic policies i.e. giving maximum opportunities to the private businesspersons. Unfortunately, neither communist China nor the democratic capitalist countries have been able to provide full employment and eliminate poverty. In both the political systems, vast disparity between rich and poor continues.
None of the 79 recipients of the Nobel Prize in economics since 1969 (the year of inception) have given any solution.
Though a ‘socialist republic’ under the Constitution and law (http://www.devendranarain.com/is-india-still-socialist), India has also adopted the models for economic growth with several welfare measures to help the poor. Unfortunately, our problem of unemployment is so big that despite all the policy initiatives, we are unable to create enough jobs for the ever-growing labour force. The Central and State governments have to spend a major part of the budget on subsidies to the poor for their survival.
Chidambaram’s brilliant idea that ‘begging is also a job’ looks like the best solution available till date. There are several advantages in treating begging as a job. The government will not have to bother about creation of jobs or about subsidies to the poor. They will all be self-sufficient.
Coming from a poor background, Modi thinks that earning ₹ 200/- a day i.e. ₹ 6000/-a month is sufficient. Perhaps he does not know that that our beggars can earn much more. With the help of Google, I did some research and found that begging could be more remunerative than selling pakodas. There are quite a few examples. (Top 10 Richest Beggars in India) 50-year-old professional beggar Bharat Jain who operates in Parel in Mumbai, earns approximately ₹ 100.000/- a month including ₹ 10,000/- as rent from a juice shop he owns . In addition, he owns two apartments valued at ₹ 70 lakh each I have no idea whether he pays income tax. Krishna Kumar Gite, a beggar of Charni Road, Mumbai, owns a flat worth ₹ 5 lakhs. Sarvatia Devi of Patna, one of the most famous female beggars of this country, pays ₹ 36,000/- as annual insurance premium.
How many pakoda sellers earn ₹ 100,000/- a month or pay insurance premium of ₹ 36,000/-? Some readers may give example of Kishor Mangalji Bhajiawala who started his career as a snack seller two decades back and is a very rich person today. But that is not because of snack business. Since there was little prospect in the snack business, he and his family diversified in the lucrative business of money laundering. Unfortunately, he attracted the attention of income tax authorities and other investigating agencies which have attached his properties worth several crores.
The readers may ask why such a brilliant idea did not occur to Chidambaram when he was Finance Minister. There are valid reasons for that. The 10 years of the UPA regime were a ‘golden’ era for the Congress and allies. There was a unique political arrangement, unheard of in any political system in history. The real rulers had appointed a dummy Prime Minister on the condition that he would do only their biddings and speak as less as possible. I can remember only three memorable remarks he had made. One, there are ‘compulsions of coalition government’. Two, ‘the minorities have first right on the natural resources of the country’. Three, ‘Modi would be disaster as Prime Minister while Raul Gandhi had all the qualities of a Prime Minister.’
During the UPA regime, democracy was at its peak. There was full freedom to make money through any means, fair or foul, hoard any amount of cash, invest hoarded cash in real estate, acquire luxuries of life by paying in cash, and much more. All sorts of options were available for employment generation. The free flow of cash was a big boost to real estate, which generated employment on a large scale. The big reality companies kept large number of cash counting machines for the ‘ease of doing business’. Manufacturing and selling cash counting machines became a thriving business. More than 5 lakh shell companies alone provided employment to several lakh people and facilitated movement of funds from non-existent accounts to declared and undeclared bank accounts. Raising money from domestic or foreign sources was very easy. If powerful people had any problem, the Foreign Investment Promotion Board extended a helping hand. The best example is regularisation of hundreds of crores of rupees raised illegally from abroad by INX Media because, the investigating agencies have alleged, the then Finance Minister Chidambaram’s son Kartik got a cut. After all, charity begins at home.
To be fair, the UPA did not neglect the poor, especially of rural India. At the initiative of the supreme leader, the government launched Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme to give 100 days of employment, considered sufficient for a poor family. It was continuation of the promise – Garibi Hatao (banish poverty) – made by Indira Gandhi in 1971 general election.
The intellectuals and liberals of the country were very happy with the regime.
Things started changing (for the worse in the opinion of the UPA and its supporters) with the arrival of Narendra Modi on the national stage. The self-styled secularists adopted all sorts of tactics to stall his installation in the North Block of Delhi. Thinking that being superior to common people they had a right to issue whip, the foreign and Indian intellectuals including Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen warned Indian voters not to commit the mistake of making Modi PM. Unfortunately, the voters ignored the whip. After Modi became PM, all sorts of intellectuals, from Amartya Sen to lowly film actors, Leftists of all hues, writers even of unreadable books, adopted a new strategy. (I had never imagined that our country has such a large number of ‘intellectuals.’) They, along with the Congress and other ‘secularists’ like Lalu Prasad and Mayawati, started finding fault with everything Modi said or did, even with his dress and the way he addressed public meetings.
Undeterred, Modi continued to implement his programmes even at the cost of his popularity. Now it has become a common practice. Modi says or does something he thinks good for the country. Promptly, the’ secularists’ and ‘protectors’ of democracy retaliate. Social media is very useful for their anti-Modi mission.
Chidambaram’s tweet is part of that ‘glorious’ tradition since 2014.
I hope, if Chidambaram becomes Finance Minister again – with the prayers and blessings of the beggars he may – he will remember his revolutionary tweet and declare begging an honourable profession.
Those who do not agree with me may argue that Chidambaram cannot do so because the anti-begging laws in vogue in 22 States and Union Territories of the country empower authorised Police officers to arrest without a warrant any person found begging. Punishment may be keeping the guilty in a certified institution for 1 to 3 years.
Chidambaram, a great expert on law, can do so because apart from his political will, he has the backing of interpretation of the anti-begging laws by the Delhi High Court and opinions of jurists as well as social activists.
On 29.07.2005, a raiding police party arrested Ram Lakhan who was found at a railway crossing in Delhi. The police sent him to Tihar Jail (instead of to a certified institution). Relying upon the testimony of the two police officers, the Metropolitan Magistrate as well as the lower court awarded punishment of one year in a certified institution.
However, Ram Lakhan was not ready to be deprived of his profession for one year. He challenged his punishment in the Delhi High Court. In his thought-provoking judgement in Ram Lakhan vs State on 5 December, 2006 , Mr. Justice Badar Durrez Ahmed not only released him (on the grounds of illegal detention in a jail and inadmissibility of the testimony of the policemen), he went into the bigger issues, why does one beg, what does a bigger do and why punishment to all beggars amounts to violation of their fundamental rights conferred by Article 19(1) (a), read with Article 21 of the Constitution.
As he put it, a beggar solicits alms by words spoken or actions and said “Just as an advertisement of a product would be within the perimeter of this valuable fundamental right, begging, too, could fall within it. After all, begging involves the beggar displaying his miserable plight by words or actions and requesting for alms by words (spoken or written) or actions. Does the starving man not have a fundamental right to inform a more fortunate soul that he is starving and request for food?”
He said further, “Although, on first impression, the idea of “begging” being protected by Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution may appear a little quaint, there are decisions of courts in United States of America holding begging to be constitutionally protected speech. But, this does not mean that begging cannot be prohibited. The prohibition must, however, operate within limitation.”
The learned judge observed that there were four categories of beggars: (1) down-right lazy who doesn’t want to work, (2) alcoholic or drug-addict (3) forced by a ring leader of a beggary “gang”, (4) starving, hopeless and helpless. He said that while punishing those who fell in the third and fourth categories amounted to violation of their fundamental rights conferred; those in the second category needed to be to-addicted; only those in the first category deserved punishment.
The social activists and jurists have a point when they say that begging is nothing but disgrace and failure of the state as the state is failing to provide them with the facilities
Against this background, Chidambaram’s reaction to what Modi said about selling pakoda should be hailed as a bold attempt to remove the stigma attached to begging for living.
As Finance Minister Chidambaram should be expected to enact a central law to supersede all state anti-begging laws and announce National Unemployment Removal Programme (NURP) under which begging would be an honourable profession. He may take several measures for the “ease of doing business” and to attract all the jobseekers to join the scheme. To avoid any allegation of favouritism, he may grant license for begging and auction ‘spots’ where business can be done. ‘Spots’ may be categorised according to the prospects of earning. Greater the earning higher the floor price. Those who cannot afford to pay for the spots, may be granted interest free bank loan. The state will donate ammonium bowls or pieces of cloth for collection. The government will order banks to invite beggars to open accounts under the ‘Bhikhari Dhan Yojna’ and will issue ATM cards. As an additional incentive, income of beggars will be tax-free or would be taxed at concessional rates. The well off people will be be asked to give money to licensed beggars.
If begging is officially declared an honourable profession, there will be no unemployment in the country. Anyone in need of job will be advised to become a beggar . Even those engaged in less rewarding business like selling Pakodas and such stuffs on pavements or roads would be encouraged to switch over to begging. (If anyone wants to eat Pakodas, he will have to keep his wife in good humour.)
With these measures, the Congress government may declare that the problem of unemployment has been solved for ever. The budgetary deficit will also be nil because there would be no need spend public money on subsidies.
Is not such a revolutionary economic solution to the problem sufficient to honour Chidambaram with Nobel Prize in economics?
February 3, 2018
Karl Marx told the poor to forcibly snatch the wealth of the rich. Gandhians (followers of the Mahatma as well as the modern Gandhis) say, we believe in nonviolence. No need to used force; the rich are very kind-hearted; just beg, they will share their wealth with you.
In the next general election, the issue will be “Selling Pakodas vs Begging”. If Modi wins, unemployed will be asked to sell pakodas and such stuff and remain poor. If Rahul wins and Chidambaram, the best brain the Congress has, becomes Finance Minister, unemployed will be asked to beg and be better off.