Démerdard vs L’emmerdeurhttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/dmerdard-vs-lemmerdeur/

Démerdard vs L’emmerdeur

Mails flooding my inbox on ‘Poverty is a passive religion’ all agreed that charity isn’t the solution for dearth.

Mails flooding my inbox on ‘Poverty is a passive religion’ all agreed that charity isn’t the solution for dearth. Some readers,however,felt the samosa seller and my early poverty examples in my last fortnight’s article cannot cover the massive scale of deprivation our country suffers from. I’m not theorising with poor people,I take responsibility for my message. To chuck poverty out you don’t need brilliance,you just need to be demerdard. This French colloquialism refers to a person drowned in merde (shit) who gets rid of it by his own effort. Conversely,there’s l’emmerdeur,the person who enjoys troubling others and makes them merde.

Examples are signposts,small in number,but they show the way. A thousand examples can change a million people’s lives. That million can inspire 10 million more,and they another 100 million. Somehow the poor in India are not generating enough momentum to become demerdard. Let me narrate an incident,of my father distributing milk and blankets in our refugee colony when Bengal was flooded in 1960. As a mass leader,the Sarbohara Mukti Parishad (freedom for people who’ve lost everything) he’d formed was given charge of distributing foreign donations for flood relief. After 2-3 days,he discovered that people were selling off the items. He was furious because nutrition was very low amongst children. So he liquefied the milk powder,made people bring containers,and removed the blankets’ plastic covers so they didn’t look new. A little revolt erupted,but they convinced the poor. This small experience of abusing charity is also an example of both sides being l’emmerdeur to each other,my father for not allowing them to sell and the poor people for depriving their children of milk. Self-urge is what it takes to be demerdard. A farmer’s son told me he works 10 km outside his village,so he wanted to hire farm labour to relieve his father. But daily wages have sky-rocketed so he can’t afford it. Even in metros it’s risen from Rs 50 to Rs 250,sometimes Rs 500. The wage hike and labour scarcity in different pockets of the country opens up scope for anyone who takes initiative to be demerdard. Housemaids in cities have become wise. With an hourly rate,they earn well,working in several homes. Politicians haven’t ever taken initiative to teach poor people how to jettison poverty. Gandhiji changed his dress to look like a poor Indian; was that the right direction he gave,inspiring people to reduce their needs and live poorly?

FDI circus: Instead of unnecessarily politicising FDI,shouldn’t Indian politicians help eradicate the country’s complacency? FDI investment is invaluable for the global expertise and experience it brings. On-the-spot benchmarking can happen easily to meet the know-how challenges of globally reputed companies. India should respect,welcome and deploy the gains from FDI rather than politicians being l’emmerdeur by ensuring poor people become poorer.

India’s political divide has no relevance to FDI: Manifestoes of all parties say they represent India’s 80 per cent poor. This is just to win an election. So the masses vote for individual leaders who become powerful. This situation will never change until the political illiteracy of the poor vanishes. Today we see jumbled arguments on TV about how politicians are siding with the poor by opposing FDI. A few intellectuals enjoy that,but do the poor understand or care?

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How small retail entrepreneurs will benefit from FDI: Let me reiterate how FDI in retail can benefit entrepreneurs (my column: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/why-should-the-consumer-sacrifice/894283/0),who know no book-keeping. Most Indian kirana stores are run unprofessionally. Manual accounting is done annually based on estimates,not actuals. They block money stocking 300-400 types of inventory,making the store a veritable stockyard infested by rats and cockroaches.

Take Asian examples: When global multi-brand retails entered China,local retailers quickly learnt about supply chain discipline from them,grew from 1.9 to 2.5+ million in less than ten years and still dominate the market. Consumers too have benefited from choice and quality. In ten years of Indonesia allowing 100 per cent FDI,small traders continue to retain 90 per cent of business. Foreign fast food chains have entered India,haven’t our local food outlets since improved? Our kirana retailers will professionalise once they’re exposed to new ways. The poor cannot be helped with strikes and political fights. Train them to acquire competence. That’ll change their working style,make them demerdard. Then they may even produce outstanding products that can travel anywhere in the world. Join me in the advocacy for demerdard for the poor. There’s a different life out there for them to chase. The formula is to teach them how to become demerdard,nothing else.

Shombit Sengupta is an international creative business strategy consultant to top management. Reach him at http://www.shiningconsulting.com

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