Saturday, September 11, 2010

Wanted, a Nobel Prize for Honesty

Byline by M J Akbar: Wanted, a Nobel Prize for Honesty

Now that a legitimate recipient can be identified for a Nobel Prize for Honesty, it is time Oslo introduced such a prize. One sensible option would be to scrap the prize for peace since each year the committee has to torture itself to find a candidate — before it hands over the cash and plaque to someone who has just declared war.

I have an excellent nominee for the first winner of the Nobel Honesty Prize: Alexei Kudrin, Finance Minister of Russia. In the first week of this month he told the news agency Interfax that the best thing his countrymen could do to help the national economy was to smoke and drink more. These are his specific words: “If you smoke a pack of cigarettes, that means you are giving more to help solve social problems such as boosting demographics, developing other social services and upholding birth rates…People should understand: Those who drink, those who smoke are doing more to help the state.”

There is an also-ran in these stakes. On 10 September, Sha Zukang, Undersecretary General for Economic and Social Affairs at the UN, encouraged by a glass or four of alcohol, told Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General, “I know you never liked me, Mr Secretary-General — well, I never liked you, either…” But the winner is Alexei Kudrin, by a long shot. He was sober.

His message is simple. Smoking gives you cancer; cancer kills you early. A dead person cannot claim state pension, which is good news. Death also shifts the age-youth ratio in favour of the young. Further, you pay higher taxes on cigarettes and drink — more money, then, to the exchequer: wonderful! QED. Die to save the fatherland!

This is exactly how any Finance Minister driven to despair by deficits would express himself. But the rules tell him to talk like a weasel and promise more food, electricity, shelter and security even if he has to bankrupt the future in order to secure your votes today.

Dr Manmohan Singh, who had a hard time as Finance Minister and isn’t actually on a picnic as Prime Minister, is never going to give such excess, but you can almost hear him straining at the leash. Years of being politically correct at the cost of economic discipline are beginning to tell. He tipped over when the Supreme Court instructed his Government to feed the impoverished instead of letting grain rot. Dr Singh’s retort was sharp; in sum, that the Government was not in the business of charity. If the grain had to rot, so be it; if the impoverished wanted food they would have to go to the market. There is economic logic, apparently, in letting rats get fat. The Supreme Court, said the PM, should live outside the policy zone. If a lesser being had made such a remark, it would doubtless have invited contempt of court, but even supreme judges know better than to summon a Prime Minister at the drop of a remark.

The Prime Minister is a politician. Any suggestion to the contrary is promotion of a myth. Evidence suggests that his populism would be community-oriented rather than poverty-specific. He understands the nuances of the game better than some self-proclaimed professionals imagine. Community is the key: poverty is too amorphous an identity, whereas caste and religion are the truly powerful instruments of mobilization. It is not accidental that Dr Singh’s Cabinet has scheduled a caste census for next year.

Being a politician, he knows that his main responsibility is to keep the Government afloat until heir-apparent Rahul Gandhi declares himself fit to rule rather than merely campaign through non-sequiturs. Dr Singh keeps sane in the waiting room thanks to a quiet sense of humour. He has, for instance, advised his ministers to check out the United Nations code on corruption. Does he think that the whole Cabinet will begin to tremble at the thought of being caned by Ban Ki-moon?

Indeed, it is possible that ministers like Commerce Minister Anand Sharma who, poor chap, has declared to the Prime Minister that he has personal assets of a mere Rs 26,741, might apply for a UN poverty certificate, while we concerned Indians pass the hat for charitable contributions. It is a shame, in these post-Gandhian times, that as important a personage as Anand Sharma should have less in his bank than it costs to buy an official suit, unless of course he buys his suits from what lies in his cupboard rather than in his bank account.

Given the parlous state of so many of our ministers — the indigent Subodh Kant Sahai, for instance, has personal assets of only Rs 1.4 lakh — should we suggest to Oslo that they should also offer a Nobel Prize for Poverty?

Censorship is hereby imposed on all those who believe that what Indian politicians would really win year after year is the Nobel Prize for Hypocrisy.


P said...

I think there is another contender for the noble prize for honesty! The surgeon general of the US who claimed something along similar lines! Either he had a eureka moment when he concieved this 'twisted' idea or is simply guilty of plagiarism! Here is where I found it...

I returned back home after a gap of 4 yrs and am a little appalled at what qualifies as news! I see and hear more about 'Dabaang' and Salman's tongue in cheek comment than Yamuna at its brink and the state of affairs in Kashmir. Somewhere I hope our journalists grow up and focus on the real issues of grains rotting than not being able to forgive Salman. For the record his tactics did work and while I think he should be a little more media-smart when he opens his mouth, I think its time the media grow a 'forgiving' bone and let his fans enjoy his brawny personna! Sigh.. there my mind is still humming 'dabaang dabaang dabaang'! :)

pavan 'chaos' said...

Nobel for Honesty, that is funny. Besides, you recommend Alexei Kudrin, Finance Minister of Russia for Nobel Honesty. I'd rather say I would nominate him for Nobel prize for lack of vision.

Encouraging people to smoke and drink to their deaths expecting a boost in demographics, developing social services, upholding birth rates and saving the state pension as the person would die early.

All this is anything but sustained. I am no expert but as I see it - soon people would realize they don't need pension as they don't live long enough. With many deaths due to cancer, perhaps we can expect an impact on the financial/insurance sector as there would be too many claims to keep it a viable business. We know how a junkie's mind would function, they wouldn't really have any savings and perhaps even jobs. No jobs and upholding addictions would mean an acute need for money and so that would increase the crime and corruption. Perhaps, the next thing he would do is legalize dope to earn taxes over it as that would have been the most lucrative cash crop by then. I would say this is just a short cut to mayhem. And a perfect candidate for Nobel "lack of vision".

Either this person had made a casual comment and that was picked up as a basis for this humorous post or that person is definitely at the wrong place at the wrong time :)