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Nehru should be understood in the context of his times, not ours

The Indian commitment to the semantics of socialism is at least as deep as ours to the semantics of free enterprise … It is regularly averred by the government and, indeed, by nearly all articulate Indians. Even the most intransigent Indian capitalist may observe on occasion that he is really a socialist at heart.

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Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru

It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that history is a living reality in Indian society. Every day millions across the country begin their day with Bronze age chants and pepper their conversations with Iron Age epics — an expected outcome in a society that has a fair claim to being the worlds oldest continuous civilisation. The obsession with history also sometimes goes to ridiculous extremes as it distorted by politicians, who regularly make hyperbolic, unsubstantiated claims like the existence of satellite technology and nuclear weaponry in ancient India.

The most recent brushes with history on the political front have been in the form of attempts to magnify or diminish the stature of personalities of the past. An effort on these lines with regard to the legacy of Jawaharlal Nehru, free India’s first Prime Minister, has generated impassioned conversations in the media. Nehru has often been at the receiving end of historical reproval. During such times it is instructive to revisit John Rawls, a moral and political philosopher in the liberal tradition, who had crucial insights to offer on how to assess historical figures.

An important argument that Rawls makes is that the giants of the past should be understood in the context of their times rather than ours. The benefit of hindsight is usually an unfair vantage point to pass judgement on the actions made by people in the past. Nehru is an appropriate case in point. The stance he adopted on the economic front is often put under the scanner for the repercussions they had on the long run. After all, the infamous Hindu rate of growth at which India expanded until the 1980s had its origins in the planned economy that Nehru set up after independence.

But what is often overlooked is that the Nehruvian approach was by no means unique at the time. The idea that the state could plan to meet each and every demand and need of its citizen had quite a few takers in the post-War era, even if it might seem absurd today. In fact, Nehru had invited the best and brightest economists of the time to India for insights on the viability of a planned economy. I.G. Patel recalls in his memoir how a series of economists — Gunnar Myrdal, Ragnar Frisch, Jan Tinbergen, Oskar Lange and Richard Goodwin — came to India with a definite view that development could be plotted and planned till the last mile.

Even the business community in India favoured the idea of planning — at least in the first decade following independence. The economist John Kenneth Galbraith, who served as the US Ambassador to India under the Kennedy administration, once pointed out: “The Indian commitment to the semantics of socialism is at least as deep as ours to the semantics of free enterprise … It is regularly averred by the government and, indeed, by nearly all articulate Indians. Even the most intransigent Indian capitalist may observe on occasion that he is really a socialist at heart.” Such inclinations are hard to fathom in the post-Soviet world.

The mistake of the Indian political class lay in persisting with the model even after its failures and inefficiencies became apparent. By the mid-1960s, the criticism of planned development was hard to miss. Gunnar Myrdal penned a telling account on the failures of development, “Asian Drama”, in which he remarked that “India’s promised social and economic revolution failed to materialise”.

The arguments of free marketeers led by Milton Friedman were also becoming dominant in the field of economics at the time. A few East Asian economies — mainly South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore — began opening up their economies after becoming disillusioned with the central planning model. They adopted a unique approach of state-led capitalism with a substantial export-oriented focus. Over the next few decades these economies entered a sustained high-growth phase that popularly came to be known as “the East Asian miracle“.

Therefore, India’s continued fascination with the status quo becomes hard to defend after Nehru’s death. Instead of evolving with the times, India became an even more closed and tightly state-controlled.

The general failure to contextualise the economic legacy of Nehru has made him an unfair target of the history wars that are increasingly taking place in today’s political arena. There have been other victims of these debates as well. It is crucial that in these dialogues Rawls’ reasoning be followed and sweeping judgement with the benefit of hindsight be avoided. When history is distorted to be used for partisan battles, the people risk losing their touch with the past and with it a sense of commonality and belonging.

(Amit Kapoor is chair, Institute for Competitiveness. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at [email protected] and tweets @kautiliya. Chirag Yadav, senior researcher, Institute for Competitiveness, has contributed to the article)

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Decoded: How smell of lavender helps you unwind

They found that linalool odour has an anxiolytic effect in normal mice. However, this did not impair their movement.

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fragrant plants
Fragrant Plants

Scientists have discovered that the fragrant flower lavender is relaxing and may help people unwind and could even be a safer alternative to anti-anxiety drugs.

The study, over mice, showed that the vaporised lavender compound linalool must be smelt — not absorbed in the lungs — to feel its calming effects, which could be used to relieve preoperative stress and anxiety disorders.

Mice show less signs of anxiety when they smell the fragrant flower.

“In folk medicine, it has long been believed that odorous compounds derived from plant extracts can relieve anxiety,” said co-author Hideki Kashiwadani of Kagoshima University in Japan.

The fragrant flower can also act as an alternative to current anxiolytic (anxiety-relieving) drugs like benzodiazepines, which is known to cause memory problems, male breast growth and birth defects.

In the study, published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, the researchers tested mice to see whether it is the smell of linalool — i.e. stimulation of olfactory (odour-sensitive) neurons in the nose — that triggers relaxation.

They found that linalool odour has an anxiolytic effect in normal mice. However, this did not impair their movement.

This contrasts with benzodiazepines, and linalool injections, whose effects on movement are similar to those of alcohol.

“The results suggest that linalool does not act directly on GABAA receptors like benzodiazepines do but must activate them via olfactory neurons in the nose in order to produce its relaxing effects,” Kashiwadani explained.

“Our study also opens the possibility that relaxation seen in mice fed or injected with linalool could in fact be due to the smell of the compound emitted in their exhaled breath.”

Lavender could also be used pre-surgery or by those who struggle to take drugs, the team said.

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India’s economic growth not inclusive enough, inequality rises

Basic education, good health and decent environment are not only valuable constituent elements of quality of life themselves but can also aid in driving economic successes of the standard kind in a more equitable manner. India has missed the bus on that front.

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India Inequality

The Indian growth story has been far from perfect. That is not an understatement by any stretch of imagination. A growing challenge for the economy is the fast-evolving problem of inequality.

Most recently, James Crabtree in his latest book, “The Billionaire Raj”, claims that “India is one of the world’s most unequal countries.” His claim is based on the fact that the billionaire wealth as a proportion of the entire country’s output is the highest for India, except for Russia. The latest human development rankings released last week also corroborate his findings. India already ranks a lowly 130 on the index out of 189 countries but when adjusted for inequality, the scores experience a drastic fall of almost 27 percent against a world average of 20 percent.

What explains India’s dismal performance on the inequality front? Why don’t other developing countries face a similar problem? To put it simply, economic growth in India has not been inclusive enough. All the hype about the country’s fast-paced economic growth has not percolated down through the economy. The recently-released Social Progress Index can provide an explanation on why that is so.

The Index, which measures the extent to which a country can provide for the social and environmental needs of its citizens, ranks India at 101; a position it had achieved as early as 2014. India is the worst performer among all the BRICS countries and performs poorly than quite a few other developing countries like Thailand, Sri Lanka, Philippines and Indonesia as well. The country’s abysmal performance on social and environmental aspects can explain its widening inequality to a large extent.

To first put things in perspective, the countries which are performing better on the Social Progress Index are managing to do so irrespective of their economic heft; that is, even economies that are poorer than India have ranked higher. But they have made it possible to have broad-based public participation in economic expansion by pursuing policies which allow for extensive schooling, higher literacy, better healthcare, widespread land reforms and greater gender parity. The only way to maximise the gains in poverty reduction for an economy is to make it more participatory, which is not easy to achieve if the webs of social barriers are not broken down through such policies. Economic advancement cannot be equitable if social opportunities are not enhanced on a wider basis.

China offers the perfect case in point for how a large economy can achieve equitable growth on a sustained basis. China was at the same economic level as India around 1980 when it undertook market reforms. At the same time, the country made investments in improving its basic education and health standards. When China soon became an export-led economy, the products did not particularly require highly skilled labour, but schooled and literate population nevertheless. The production of such basic manufactures for the world markets requires adherence to certain specifications and quality controls where good school education comes in handy. A healthy workforce is also imperative to ensure that economic schedules are not marred by illnesses and intermittent absences and that adequate productivity is maintained.

Thus, basic education, good health and decent environment are not only valuable constituent elements of quality of life themselves but can also aid in driving economic successes of the standard kind in a more equitable manner. India has missed the bus on that front. Surely it can continue to achieve high rates of growth with the rather limited bouquet of social opportunities that exist currently. In fact, a lot of complacency arises from the achievement of high growth rates on an aggregate level. But a status quo would only continue to widen the disparity across society that has already reached concerning levels. Most of India’s growth arises from industries which make excessive use of its historic accomplishments in higher education and technical training. The fruits of such a growth, therefore, are skewed on the wrong side of the income spectrum.

The problem with the inequality debate in India is that it is often argued that since poverty has dramatically declined in the country post-reforms, the trend of rising inequality should not concern policy-makers as it is a small price to pay. But, the fact that India is an outlier in terms of inequality among all developing countries, except an oligarchic Russia, should raise the alarm bells. Most importantly, if there exists a way where the gains from existing growth can be more equitably distributed, clearly that is the Pareto optimal path of development and worth striving for.

(Amit Kapoor is chair, Institute for Competitiveness. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at [email protected] and tweets @kautiliya. Chirag Yadav, senior researcher, Institute for Competitiveness has contributed to the article)

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I’m available as an actor across languages: Ashish Vidyarthi

“There are many mature directors. I am sure someday they will say ‘You know what? Let’s do something interesting’.”

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Ashish Vidyarthi

New Delhi, Oct 21 : National Award winner Ashish Vidyarthi has acted in hundreds of films in languages like Hindi, Telugu, Malayalam and Bengali, but the actor in him wants more. He also feels he has had less opportunities in Bollywood.

A few weeks ago, filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj said Bollywood hasn’t given justice to Ashish’s talent and that he is an underrated and under-utilised actor.

“I would (agree with Bhardwaj),” Ashish said with a laugh.

“There are many roles and I haven’t had the opportunity to do any of them. I jokingly tell people ‘Sometimes I wonder, is the film industry waiting for me to die and then say it’s sad. He was a good actor. He was underrated and didn’t have enough chances’,” he told IANS in a telephonic interview.

He wants the filmmakers to know that the actor is around.

“There are many roles and I am waiting for directors to come out. The actor is available,” said the “Aligarh” actor.

He has been in the film industry since the early 90s and he believes he has maintained “my sanity and kept my hunger alive for doing powerful roles”.

“There are many mature directors. I am sure someday they will say ‘You know what? Let’s do something interesting’.”

In fact, one of the reasons why he tried his hand at regional films is because the makers offered him roles of his choice.

“I have done 200 plus films in other languages,” he said comparing himself to a traveller.

“Thanks to this travel of mine, so many other languages have discovered me. I belong to them. I make the most of my journey. I am available as an actor across languages. I am looking forward to interesting roles…. in Hindi too,” said the actor, known for films like “Droh Kaal”, “1942: A Love Story”, “Arjun Pandit”, “Vaastav: The Reality” and “Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai”.

But is he happy with his acting journey which started almost three decades ago?

“I am grateful and continue to ask for more. The journey of an actor continues. Even as we continue our life, what is important is that, we must keep hope for the future alive,” he said.

He is looking forward to the release of his Tamil film with actress Amala Paul.

“It’s an interesting one,” said the actor, who feels he has remained relevant.

The digital platform also excites him.

“It allows more people to consume entertainment. It is is readily available to people on their mobile phones,” said Ashish.

His short film “Kahanibaaz”, presented by Royal Stag Barrel Select Large Short Films, also released on the digital platform last month.

The thriller, helmed by Sandeep Varma, features Ashish as a cab driver, who takes an odd turn during a drive to Shirdi with a couple.

Talking about his character’s actions in the film, he said: “Even though we hate something, we do something else. People can’t express themselves where they need to and that’s why it comes out somewhere else.”

It is inspired by Gaana’s original “Kahanibaaz” podcast.

“I love that podcast,” he said.

Apart from acting, he keeps himself busy by being a motivational speaker.

“Over the last few years, apart from my acting, which has taken me all over, I have also had a very interesting innings as a motivational speaker. I conduct the Avid Miner programmes all over the world.

“Each time I curate a conversation. So, each conversation is new,” said the “Athanokkade” actor, who creates learning environment for life skill development and workplace well-being of corporate professionals, entrepreneurs and individuals.

(Natalia Ningthoujam can be contacted at [email protected])

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