Sunday, March 6, 2011

GADDAFI and Company

I am seriously considering applying for a job as a dictator. The pay is pretty good, you chose your own working hours, you get any number of freebees and you do not pay income tax. Of course the downside, and there is always a downside to any good job, is that you have people gunning for you. I could live with that. It could not be any worse than driving in India where the gods dice with your fate every moment you are on the road.
Fortune magazine publishes its list of the world’s richest people annually. Naturally, Gates and Buffet tops it again, legitimately, with mere $40 billions. I figure this must make him richer than many nations. I skipped the names lower down, as they were loose change to Bill Gates. Fortune also publishes a list of the richest dictators. I am not certain how accurate their figures are but they certainly made interesting reading.
I wondered whether Fortune sends out a form to the dictators, like the ones you get from credit card companies soliciting your patronage. There is always a column ‘Tell us about your profession and income’. Are dictators self-employed or are they employed by the State? I guess they will tick the CEO box, as it is tough getting a platinum credit card if you are self-employed. I am sure they must ponder a long time over the income box. How will they tick those boxes? Real Estate? – the whole country. That is not chump change. Other assets? – everything in the country, dams, power stations, roads, railways, tanks, fighter jets. They would have to add an extra sheet to complete the list. Number of people employed in your company? – the whole population, including the ones in prison. How many four wheelers? – lost count. The name of your bank and account number? Now, I wonder how they answer that. They must use, again, a separate sheet of paper to name all the banks and total up how much each bank holds. What about the ‘last income tax filed’ question. At this point, I figure they send in their Gestapo to deal with the stupid questioner and sling him into their private prisons.
According to Fortune, President Fidel Castro is worth $110 millions. My admiration for the man only increases at his moderation. He had been in power in Cuba for nearly 50 years. This works out to an annual salary of $2.2 millions a year! You could not hire any CEO for that kind of small change. The big guys in GE, GM pull in forty to fifty million dollars a year, and that is not including stock options and other perks. And all they have to do is run a corporation and not a complex nation that has been living under the guns and missiles and blockades of the United States.
Now you may say Cuba is not exactly the richest nation in the world. However, compare Castro’s fortune against the ex-President Hosni Mubarak who has stashed away 70 billion dollars during his 30-year-old rule of the country. Did you know that his pin stripped suits cost around $25,000 dollars because the stripes are his name ‘Hosni Mubarak’. Now, that’s an admirable ego.
There are other dictators in the Fortune list. They include the embattled Gaddafi, whose worth is around 300 billion dollars.
However, what I am waiting for is for the Fortune investigation team to descend on India. They would have a field day. Mubarak’s 70 billion and Gaddafi’s 300 billion would look like peanuts compared to what our democratically elected leaders have stashed away in bank vaults across the world. Every Chief Minister of his or her State lives like a dictator. They have the same style of functioning – the armed guards, the fawning acolytes, the motorcades, the gangsters imposing the dictator’s will, a compliant police force, a rubber stamp bureaucracy. Every five years they have to stand for elections and, in many states, it is a mere formality for them to continue their rule. In some States, a new Dictator is formally elected and he or she quickly falls into the same pattern of rule as their predecessor.
The only difference between India and those other nations is that we elect our dictators and allow them to rule for five years and loot our treasury. Unfortunately, our leaders do not have the same sense of moderation as a Fidel Castro.

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