India Uncut

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Sunday, May 08, 2005

Happiness and government interference

Gurcharan Das writes:
Most of us sensibly believe that human unhappiness is a private matter, and is the result of things like unhappy marriages, ungrateful children, losing a promotion, or even the lack of faith. We know too well what would happen if our government got into the act: Chidambaram would tax ungrateful children, Sonia Gandhi would ban divorces, Manmohan Singh would create a promotions commission, Arjun Singh would detoxify faith, making atheism illegal. So frankly, I am glad that our wonderful Constitution is silent, unlike America's, which enjoins the state to the 'pursuit of happiness'.

Yet, governments can help promote happiness. Knowing I will not be attacked when I step out of the house is central to my well-being. I am a relaxed entrepreneur if I don't have to see the excise inspector. I am a contented phoolwalli if I don't have to pay hafta. I am a happier farmer if I don't have to bribe the patwari. Seven out of ten Indians live in a village. Even if tiny, most have a parcel of land, and once in their lifetime they must transfer its title when their father dies. Surveys show that it takes 100 days of running around to affect this transfer. It is also a 100 days of humiliation, and by the end, one has lost all dignity and self-esteem.

Das goes on to write:
Our only hope for good governance is that our economic reforms continue, the Indian state keeps shedding its illegitimate functions, and government slowly gets out of the way. As this continues, I also hope we will get around to deleting the word "socialism" from our Constitution, one of Indira Gandhi's pernicious legacies from the Emergency. The word "socialism" has a precise meaning: it is State ownership of all means of production. No one believes in this any longer, not even Karat, the new head of the CPM.

Dead right. I had a discussion recently with some of my fellow cartel members on who India's worst prime minister has been, and I volunteered Jawaharlal Nehru's name. I was soon converted by some convincing arguments to the view that Indira was worse. What a pity that a question about our worst prime minister should have many more candidates than one about our best. It is indicative of the state of our country.

Anyway, read Das's full piece.
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