Monday, April 07, 2008

Thackeray scores a self-goal March 23, 2008

The damage is done. Hit by an exodus of North Indian labour in the past two months following Raj Thackery’s Marathi rage, industrialists in Pune, Nashik, and Thane have slowed their expansion plans in Maharashtra and are looking towards other states. They fear a return of the old nightmare when Datta Samant’s labour militancy combined with Bal Thackeray’s xenophobia drove white collar jobs from Mumbai to Bangalore and blue collar jobs to Gujarat.

In a free market, investment flows to the most attractive destination. What makes a destination attractive is, in part, the availability of industrious workers. Immigrants everywhere tend to be hungrier and harder working than locals. Economists like Harvard’s Richard Freeman, have shown that societies that encourage immigration outperform those that do not. This is why experts predict that America will remain competitive in the 21st century, while Europe and Japan will decline. As a land of immigrants, America is more capable of accepting immigrants, unlike Europe and Japan which have historically failed to absorb outsiders. Under pressure of ageing populations and shrinking workforces, Europe and Japan will thus lose out to China and India. .

The Indian Railways sells 6. 4 billion tickets annually. Assuming a third are commuters, this means roughly four journeys per person per year in a nation of 1.1 billion people. We are a nation on the move, especially the poor in search of jobs and a better life. Our cities are becoming more cosmopolitan and an Indian identity is being forged, which will increasingly trump regional identities. This imposes real costs on Raj Thackeray’s bigotry.

Maharashtrian workers do have a legitimate problem, however. How do they respond to the challenge of more nimble and productive immigrants? The answer is to make Maharashtra even more attractive for investment. Raj Thackeray should push for better infrastructure, better colleges, and better vocational schools. This will make Maharashtrians more skilled and more competitive. Eventually, many will move up into the middle class and leave the menial jobs to migrants.

There is a more troubling question, however. What makes ordinary, decent Maharashtrian boys turn into a violent and cruel mob? It is the same question that Germans have asked for 75 years—“how did we become evil Nazis in the 1930s?” David Livingstone Smith tries to answer this in his book, The Most Dangerous Animal. He argues that all human beings are disposed to evil—it only needs a trigger like Hitler or Thackeray. The men of the German Reserve Police Battalion 101, who shot 38,000 Jewish unarmed civilians one afternoon, were “middle-aged family men without military training or ideology”. The same could be said of all mass killings. The murderer could be you or me. Scientists explain our violent tendencies through our genes. Like all social animals, from ants to chimpanzees, we are highly xenophobic. The more closely knit we are, the more aggressive we are to outsiders. Our Constitution makers realized the dangers of giving power to the human animal—hence they set up a system checks and balances.

Raj Thackeray is not the only one to score a self goal. Malaysia’s “bumiputra” movement continues to drive investment from Malaysia to other South East Asian countries. Germany failed to attract Indian software engineers a few years ago, despite an attractive ‘green card’ scheme, because its people are inhospitable to immigrants. In a competitive world, it takes maturity and luck to realize that immigrants make a society successful.


Arun' Blog said...

Have you written the sequel of "India Unbound"? Or can you blog your views in current situation, your prologue for the book please?

Dnyanesh said...

Don't you think you failed to answer questions raised by Raj Thakeray. You might want to write a post to answer his questions. I am reading your book India Unbound and have been working in the US for last 10 years. I agree with you on most of the points in the book. But I do not agree with you about this post. Your always mention US as a role model but it also does not welcome immigrants in such large numbers. For your information, I have been waiting for my immigration application for last 7 years. I do not see wrong in Raj Thakeray's stand. It may be hurting as he is targetting North Indians. I think it is better to educate people in northern states that prosperity lies in the hands of good politicians which they elect. Prosperity in Maharashtra is a result of good attitude of local people, their hardwork and politicians. Outsiders 'added' to this.

Arun' Blog said...

I never said USA is a role model, however we can learn from any country. We can learn from India how culture and progress is balanced, and from US how to make things work. We can not compare USA with Maharashtra. USA is a country, and Maharashtra is a state within a country. In USA, no state forbids personnel of other states to come and settle within it's premises. If it would do this, then there would be no difference between the state that does this and Maharashtra. As far as politicians are concerned, they are the same everywhere, be it North or West.

Dnyanesh said...

My reply was to the original article by Gurcharan Das.
There are certain questions raised by Raj Thackeray, which aren't answered by the author.
The main problem, as seen by many Maharashtrians, is development imbalance caused by northern dirty politics. Author needs to address that as well. Hindi media typically overlook that.

Yes, every Indian has a right to move and settle down anywhere in India but not at the cost of local people and their sentiments.
I agree that USA and Maharashtra is not a fair comparison and neither USA and India. Problem in the US are not as complex as in India.
Regarding politics in India, I can say that politicians from South including Maharashtra have done much more for the masses than in the North and it is causing this imbalance. If it is not addressed in time then there will be more and more friction.

Arun said...

I think biggest block is an idea that I am better than you. If you think South Indians or Maharashtrians are better than North Indians, then there is no further argument. This idea itself is destructive, and can lead to monstrous dimensions, including the one that Hitler had for Jews. This is unfortunate, that you think this way. I do have a great regard for South Indians and Maharashtra, having lived in these places for a good part of my life. I see no difference in basic humanity any where. There are good and bad people in all sections of society. This is true even in USA, where I am staying for the last 8 years. What we need to see is how we can move together as a country. As far as politicians are also concerned, they are also the same, fighting for power or survival at the expense of every one else.

Dnyanesh said...

I think you misunderstood what I am trying to say here.
There is a need to understand the root cause of this mass movement of poor (and educated too) people from north to south. It does not mean people from south or Maharashtra are better. Maharashtra is the first state experiencing impact of this hence you see Marathi's are complaining. There are Punjabi's who complain too, NE states too.
You can read one interesting discussion here.
I too think that people and politicians are same everywhere but that does not answer reasons behind this desperation of poors'.
Raj Thackeray has raised a valid question here which our policy makers need to answer and implement.

Amit Sabne said...

While calling US a land of immigrants, are you considering how stringent guidelines they have while allowing migrations? Indian states do not have any such restrictions and hence, comparison is futile.

Further, if the jobs went away from Mumbai, did it do any bad to the country? Looking at the industries that have currently come up in Bangalore, one would not think so.

Arun' Blog said...

With the scene quiet in Maharashtra these days, is it that the Thackerey's have found some evidence of the big companies shying away from Maharashtra? I do to think they care.