By Amulya Ganguli
Indications are that the Congress may once again return to the days of economic populism and an anti-American foreign policy favoured by Sonia Gandhi when the party was in power.
Such policies did not help the Congress. Instead, its various rights-based programmes along with the charges of corruption led the party to its worst ever performance in 2014. Neither the “right to food”, which promised subsidized grains to 67 per cent of the population, nor the “right to education”, which did away with examinations in schools till Class VIII, nor the right to rural employment, which poured money in the countryside without creating durable assets, as admitted by rural development minister Jairam Ramesh in 2013, save the Congress from its ignominious defeat in the last general election.
Needless to say, these “pro-poor” programmes were devised by the National Advisory Council comprising Leftist activists and intellectuals headed by Sonia Gandhi. One of them, Aruna Roy, even complained about the Manmohan Singh government’s emphasis on growth at the expense of welfare measures.
Sonia Gandhi even very nearly scuttled the Indo-US nuclear deal by saying that the communists had a point when they opposed it. As is known, the comrades are still fighting the former Soviet Union’s lost battle against the Yankees. Manmohan Singh had then put a brave face on the possibility of his brain child falling by the wayside by saying that the world will not come to an end if the deal is not signed. As Sanjaya Baru recounts in his book, The Accidental Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh felt deeply disappointed when the then Congress president put the survival of the coalition with the Left above the signing of the deal.
Rahul Gandhi will be making a fatal mistake if he goes down such a path again with its standard communist predilection for high expenditure for generally unproductive “poverty alleviation” programmes at the expense of growth-oriented and employment generating initiatives. Such an outlook is aligned to an ingrained animus towards the so-called international finance capital dominated by Americans which made Jyoti Basu describe Montek Singh Ahluwalia, then the Planning Commission’s vice-chairman, as the World Bank’s “man”.
That Rahul does lean Leftwards is evident from his derisory dubbing of the Narendra Modi government as “suit-boot ka sarkar”, echoing (perhaps without knowing) Marx’s observation that a “bourgeois government is the executive committee of big business and industrial houses”. That his jibe may have made Modi focus more on the poor in the recent period is probably true, but what Rahul has to remember is that even the communists are changing.
As Kerala’s Marxist chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan has said, the state is “making policies towards ease of doing business” to ensure that an industry gets “clearance within a particular number of days after filing an application”. Before him, West Bengal’s former chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharjee realized that the “flight of capital” in the wake of the Left’s ascent in the late 1960s had hurt the state, which was once a leading industrial and commercial centre.
He tried to make amends by inviting the Tatas and other industrialists to invest although his initiative was sabotaged by Mamata Banerjee who was playing her own political games. She is now paying the price for her political cynicism because industrialists have shied away from the state despite her appeals for investment, resulting in the deserted Kolkata airport being called Fatehpur Sikri, Emperor Akbar’s abandoned capital, by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen.
Rahul once spoke in favour small rather than large industries because the former provides more jobs while the big factories are mostly automated. He also wanted the country to attract more medical “tourists”, but that would require a large number of private hospitals, suggesting that he is not averse to the private sector. But, so far, he hasn’t spelt out his economic outlook in clear terms. On the other hand, the preference for loan waivers for farmers and for imposing a five per cent cess on the richest one per cent of Indians point to a socialistic mindset.
It is one thing for Rahul to criticize the present government for demonetization, GST (“Gabbar Singh Tax”), failing to bring in black money from abroad and allowing the “brightest” like former chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian to flee the “sinking ship”, and quite another to present his own economic ideas, which he hasn’t. Yet, mere promises of achhey din or the manipulation of caste and communal factors are no longer enough, as the BJP is realizing since the state of the economy now looms larger than ever before in the popular consciousness, especially of the young. (IPA Service)