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Krishnan, born

I don't carry any pre-independence baggage with me. I don't know how bad it was then or how good it is now. I want to know what difference it makes whether I am looted by a gora sahib or a Gandhi kurta-clad brown bandicoot? It makes absolutely no difference to me and also to many like me. Looting is looting, and that is what is going on even today.

In college I was an optimist; even when I started working I was one. I am no longer an optimist. But I will not say this country is going to collapse. This country will remain. India has always been there for three to four thousand years. But don't expect this country to be an Asian Tiger, or to lead the world.

I remember reading an interview by R K Narayan given way back in the fifties. I read it much later. He said one couldn't compare India with any other country. India has its own pace, maybe like a tortoise. Don't expect the country to disintegrate. We will survive, and it will be just survival and nothing more.

My first contact with an Indian leader was in 1956. I attended a meeting addressed by Jawaharlal Nehru. As a young boy it felt good amidst a big crowd, listening to the prime minister of India.

We always had rituals on August 15 in school and college. It meant nothing to me. In fact, I hated that day because even though it was a holiday we had to dress up early in the morning and go to school. But I attended the function every year without fail, not because it was compulsory but it gave me some freedom to go out on my own. I could be with my friends and enjoy every moment of it. I preferred it to the tyrannicalatmosphere at home under my grandfather and grandmother.

The same speeches every year, how bad it was under the British, how they looted our country and her wealth, how fortunate we were, how fast we were going to prosper etc, etc. I believed those words that we would become prosperous soon.

I believed those words till I had a chance to visit the villages of India. The villages of UP, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. Life is pretty bad over there, even after fifty years of Independence.

Nothing really has changed in those parts.

I have travelled all around the country and found things are not different. In Kerala, where I live, life is pretty bad despite the high literacy rate. You can't get a damn thing done unless you pay a bribe. Things are so bad that even if you want to pay the tax on your house or your land at the village office, you have to grease palms.

Corruption has been a part of our life, but it has become a way of life now. It has been institutionalised. Mrs Gandhi said corruption is an international phenomenon. Of course, corruption is there all over the world. The difference is that today we have started accepting corruption as a part of life.

Take South Korea, for example. You could get the president and prime minister indicted by the court. In India, will such a thing happen? Yes, now people are being taken to court. It is not because of the politicians but because of the judiciary.

But are they going to be indicted? Are we going to get back the money they have stolen from us? It is not going to happen. The cases will drag on for some time. Then a new crisis or a new scam will come and it will be forgotten.

In college, I wanted to help people. To interact with people. That was one of the reasons I joined the State Bank of India as a probationary officer. Everybody called me a fool. But I knew what I wanted. I later went to Anand and joined the National Diary Development Board after studying economics.

In college, I wanted everybody in this country to lead a prosperous, happy life. To have at least a square meal a day, drinking water, clothing, medical care, etc. I wasn't inclined towards Nehru's industrial policy. I believed in Gandhiji's dream of Ramrajya then, that every village should be self-sufficient.

I went to Anand because it was an organisation working for rural people. What NDDB was trying to do was mobilise milk producers, help them form their own co-operatives and market their products so that middlemen were removed, and they got better returns. But I felt the organisation itself was working as an intermediary, what with the kind of salaries, perks and campus life enjoyed by us. What I witnessed was against what I envisaged it to be. I left Anand a frustrated man.

After a short spell with the co-operative League of the United States of America, the apex body of all American co-operatives. I felt I had absolutely no work there and later joined the Central Bank of India as an economist. I thought it would be terribly exciting to work in a financial institution. It was a terrible disappointment. Working in a bank was like standing in quickand. I began feeling disillusioned again.

I quit my job, went back to my village in Kerala and began farming. People thought I was a coward. I ran away because I couldn't bear the atmosphere, the work culture, the corruption and the sycophancy any more.

There are very few people I admire in my life. Arun Singh is one such person. One of the most brilliant ministers in the Rajiv Gandhi government, he did exceedingly well as a corporate executive. After Bofors, he threw away everything and went to a village where there was no electricity. At that point I too decided that was what I too wanted to do. But I could do that only recently.

I regret not starting farming ten years earlier. I love every moment of it. I do everything on my own. I even carry cowdung in a basket on my head. I have decided I will not use anything incompatible with nature. There are no fertilizers on my farm. Like Gandhiji's self sufficient village, I want to grow everything on my farm, and make it self-sufficient.

After Independence, we still had some good leaders who took to politics because of their commitment and dedication to the country and the cause. They were all professionals, educated people who gave up their career to take up the cause of Independence. It was only later, may be in the sixties, that the bandicoots started taking over the country. The first bandicoot was Mrs Gandhi. The decline started from her time onwards and things are getting from bad to worse.

Normally people in Kerala are leftists, especially in the early stages of their life. But in my case, it was exactly the opposite. I was an ardent supporter of free enterprise. I religiously read Swarajya, the mouthpiece of Rajaji's Swatantra Party. I was for private enterprise and was against the public sector.

I have some leftwing sympathies though. Things are bad in the public sector, but there are specific reasons for that. I believe the public sector would be good if it is given managerial autonomy. Unfortunately, it is not there at all. The public sector in our country is a disaster due to political interference and due to obselete technology.

As an economist, I am for economic liberalisation. But I have disputes with the present policy. Liberalisation in India unfortunately means privatisation. What we should remember is, in India we have a significantly large section of people who cannot get involved in the market operations or who fall outside the purview of the market -- that is the rural poor.

The argument is that the fruits of liberalisation might percolate to the poor. But after how long? After 400 or 500 years? People will not have that kind of patience.

I admire the Chinese model of development. China went in for liberalisation only after most of its people got their basic requirements. In India, we started without that. Ninetyfive per cent or maybe a hundred per cent of the Chinese have these basic amenities. In India, 35 per cent to 40 per cent of the people still do not have food, shelter and clothing. For them, liberalisation doesn't mean a damn thing.

Liberalisation is important for people who live in cities, who have white collared jobs. We have admiration for liberalisation because it is a media-created myth, because the media is controlled by the upper class and the middle class.

Let me tell you something: the 'economists' do not support liberalisation. In India, 90 per cent of the so-called economists and the academic world are practicing intellectual prostitution. They know only if they support the government view can they get a fellowship, a grant, a trip abroad or an assignment to the United Nations.

Anybody who talks against liberalisation is blackmailed. During Manmohan Singh's time itself, after the Budget, for all the panel discussions, only those who supported the government policies were called. I don't remember a single Budget discussion in which Prabhat Patnaik or Deepak Nayyar was invited.

There is nothing wrong with the system. Public sector is good. Mixed economy is good. Instead it became a mixed up economy. When the government spends money for rural development, even by Rajiv Gandhi's admission, 85% of it is eaten by my favourite 'bandicoots'. That is where things are going wrong. The tragedy is, who will see that this 85% is not eaten away?

Despite all my cynicism, I don't regret being born in India. I have only wondered whether I would have liked living in another country. I prefer suffering in my own country where I am a first class citizen. I don't' want to be a second class citizen in another country.

I am patriotic, but people question my patriotism because I am realistic about many things. About Indo-China and Indo-Pakistan relations, everybody portrays these countries as villains. Actually we are equally bad and are equally responsible.

As told to Shobha Warrier. Photographs: Sanjay Ghosh