The Congress and the CPM have a long history and tradition.
The BJP and the chauvinistic, casteist parties thrive more on populist agendas
The easy part is the political agenda! The difficult part is the economic agenda. Political agenda has its noble ideals as well as some anti-modern, anti-historical, narrow, and chauvinistic and even sometimes(or, mostly these days?)Blatant fascist, violent, hatred-filled empty rhetoric! Should we mention the names? Hope readers can identify these parties! As for the economic agenda, here too, there are well-informed agenda and also the agenda born of ignorance!
The major parties, the Congress, the BJP and the CPM have their own political roots we all know fairly well what these parties stand for. When it comes to economic agenda, there is no clarity even for the Congress party.
Political parties routinely make much of their political agendas. The Congress, a party of some 121 years legacy and it had gone through many phases of political evolution today vouches for Democracy, Secularism, and the protection of minorities and the weaker sections. Is this all for the Congress political agenda or is there more than this? There is no other clear exposition except some periodical chintan, thinking conclaves or some other such forums. May be the Congress Working Committee is the highest policy making body that should be knowing better.
Indian democracy has impacted even the visiting Chinese President who on his return has favoured elections and democracy at the local government level and the peoples participation in decision making, the Chinese President is said to have remarked, helps the country to evolve a more sustainable development. But we in India need more clarity and more consensuses what are our major political agendas and our economic agendas as well.
As for the CPM, it is well-known the party too has a long history and legacy. As a Marxist ideological party its history is too well-known, it is something like one and half century history behind it but as a distinct political [party it is just less than 4o years old, it got split in 1964,after the Chinese war with India. The party of course abides by Parliamentary Democracy, fights elections and yet stands by its own distinctive policies, it believes in a range of ideological formulation, gives support for the Congress agenda, from outside, as of now. Its Polit bureau is the highest policy making body, its functioning is a bit rigid and even secretive and its policy responses change often to every situation.
The BJP is a rightist party, with a distinct communal agenda, protection of Hindutava, alignment with RSS and other outfits, anti-minorities and even anti-Muslims and as such its agenda remains controversial even now. It believes in Parliamentary Democracy and the Constitution.
The other players, the regional parties have their own caste and chauvinistic agendas.
It is when it comes to economic agenda, the Congress scores over the other parties. The Congress has had a long history of thinking about Indian economic problems, Before Independence we have a long pedigree of Congress stalwarts, from Dadabhai Naoroji, Justice Ranade, G.V.Joshi, R.C.Dutt and G.Subramanya Iyer to have written extensively about the economic exploitation under the British. A.O.Hume, the founder of the Indian national Congress himself thought of Indian peasant and the debt burden and it was this thought that moved him to found a forum to air the grievances of the Indian people. Later under others, equally distinguished, Gokhale, Tilak, Gandhi and Subash Bose and Pandit Nehru, the economic advancement of the Indian people took many specific shapes. In the post-Independent India, we had the Five Year Plans and under Indira Gandhi it took some populist turns and even then we have had distinguished administrators and economists to give concrete shape to the economic agenda of the party.
It is here enters Dr.Manmohan Singh, first under P.N.Haksar and then later under successive Prime Ministers and now finally under Sonia Gandhi Dr.Singh is the Prime Minister. As of now, the Congress party’s economic agenda ,though largely cast in a reformist garb, there are still some mental blocks within the party itself, or within the many ranks, the old hands and the new entrants, as far as what constitutes the core economic reforms agenda.
Before we see that in some critical light, we have to take note the latest developments in West Bengal where the state government has taken to economic reforms in a big way, almost a turnaround from its previous 30 year record of obstruction and obscurantism, based on blind opposition to the Congree type of economic reforms and blind policy of opposing private sector led industrialisation and concentrating only on rural, agricultural mass mobilisation and a militant trade unionism. The reign of Jyoti Basu was typical of this kind of anti-Congressism in its economic agenda. One of the latest developments is the West Bengal government’s predicament with the Trinamul Congress leader’s opposition to the Tatas’s car project. The CPM, the principal player in the new industrialisation policy is caught in a dilemma. All along the party was playing always an obstructionist and even an obscurant economic policy for the faster economic development in the country.
We see the otherwise rigid ideologue of the party Sitaram Yechury almost abandoning all the opposition of his party to the Congress style economic reforms and now completely justifying even the police lathi charge on the protesting farmers or their supporters in other parties! Again, typical of the comrades, they come out with many conspiracy theories for the opposition to acquiring the farm lands in Singur. It is again a strange twist to the compulsions of the coalition politics at the Centre, the BJP suddenly jumped into the fray, almost upsetting the Congress moves to lure the Trinamul leader!
Now, the CPM accuses the Congress of doublespeak over the Congress being lukewarm Mamata’s crusade. Mamata is playing her role as the only Opposition party in the state where no other party except the CPM was allowed to grow in normal ways. The CPM was accustomed to monopolising all levers of power, from the panchayat institutions onwards and the very anti-democratic mindset of the CPM leaders and the cadre had helped the party all these years. The result is the backward slide of the state into a most backward state tag.
The CPM being the extremist version of the Communist ideology, it had always monopolised the elite across a wide spectrum, from academics to the others in the media and elsewhere. As such we are having in India still a strong force of the Marxists, the so-called Marxists!
Yes, the Indian academics, in particular the academic economists had had a long reign in the universities and other research bodies including the various government agencies like the Planning Commission. In fact, Dr.Manmohan Singh started out as an academic-turned bureaucrat, economic administrator under the then very well-entrenched P.N.Haksar who occupied the Indira Gandhi’s Prime Minister’s Office, the PMO which was turned into a virtual Marxist ideology factory under the man whose academic and ideological credentials were always questioned by those then and even now! Haksar’s claim to fame was, he was an Allahabadi, married into the Sapru family and while in London he became a protege of the Communist R.Palme Dutt and also our own Krishna Menon. It was Nehru who placed him in the Foreign Service, in fact, Nehru placed so many of his own cousins of Allahabad into that coveted service, then one of high prestige and high pay and Haksar was four years older than Indira Gandhi and he also knew Feroze Gandhi. Thus, Mrs.Gandhi was under his hold and it was Haksar who recruited Dr.Manmohan Singh into government work. Haksar can be rightly accused as the original evil-doer under Mrs.Gandhi, so many wrongs were enacted under his direction, nationalisation of banks, splitting the Congress party, creation of the Congress(I) and politicisation of bureaucracy and even the judiciary.
As Haksar’s protege Dr.Singh was made Economic Adviser, by 1976 Secretary in the Finance Ministry and by 1980-1982 at the Planning Commission and under Pranab Mukerjee as Finance Minister he was made the Governor of RBI. He joined the Chandrashekhar government on 10,Dec,1990, Rajiv Gandhi assassinated on 21,Oct,2001 and Narasimha Rao became PM, Dr.Singh becomes Finance minister.
The point is that the Congress party ideology till Indira Gandhi was there was leftist, pro-Soviet Russia and it was Dr.Singh who faithfully served as a statist anti-liberal and this is a historic fact that he submitted himself faithfully to the Haksarian pro-communist bureaucratic manipulations. The Congress Party itself in May 2002 passed a resolution saying ideas of India’s liberalisation had originated neither with him nor Narasimha Rao!
So, the Congress Party with an impressive long 121 years of history had had a long gestation period in its evolution of a nationalist aspirations voice, as a radical party demanding swaraj, later non-co-operation, later purna swaraj and later “quit-India” slogan and finally freedom in 1947,with of course the tragedy of India’s partition. In post-Independent India, Nehru’s Socialism, later Indira Gandhi’s own radical politics that confused the economic and political developments in the country and now, under the Dr.Singh’s leadership, we are not clear what the basic ideology of the Congress Party is. Surely, the current coalition is not bound by any central thread as far as a shared vision for the country is concerned. The major allies, the Leftists and the regional caste and chauvinist groups, RJD and the DMK, have no common shared vision.
The economic vision is still blurred or fractured. Dr.Singh is becoming more enigmatic. May be he is acutely aware inside himself how he had evolved as an economist, economic bureaucrat and now the Prime Minister. So too the other ministers in his Cabinet, some plainly greenhorns who had been thrust on the coalition by the dynastic allies, the others, as Sonia Gandhi loyalists, others still like P.Chidambaram and Pranab Mukerjee as contrasts to the more amateur to the more experienced ,to give this government more a body than a soul as such!
The point is that even the political parties are not clear about their political agenda. They are found wanting to adhere to the Constitution in its evolution, they don’t take executive decisions, they leave it to the judiciary to find, say, solutions to the inter-State rive waters disputes, direct the CBI to do or not do this or that case to tackle corruption. The Congress-led coalition government is found wanting in many areas of Governance, there is so much of a revenge politics against political opponents and also pandering to the whims of the coalition allies, by not seriously finding solutions to such vexed issues like OBC quotas, creamy layer etc and even the 7 member Supreme Court Bench judgment on these issues is left to the pulls and the result is non-action and the phenomenon of the largest number of committees giving the beleaguered PM, room for just not do anything.
Critical decisions on disinvestment, FDI and other issues are left to hang in the air. It is the vested interests that have a say in the government today, not any well-understood principles or policies. As for the economic agenda, except the Congress party no other party has any clear idea of the economic reforms or the so-called neo-liberal economy. The neo-liberal economy, now in the post-Tata car project induced agitations and protests, is now truly dominated and driven by the large and influential industrial houses, it is the interests of the industrial lobby that sets the economic agenda of the reforms, whatever shape they take or don’t take!
What is good for the Ambanis, Tatas and other sundry success stories, be it Airtel’s Sunil Mittal to the other Mittal of the steel empire or the various MNCs who have got a hold in the Indian economic pie.
Of course, the IT industry stands on its own leg, having led the IT industry growth story singlehandedly, without the government having a clue to its emergence.
But the new economy industries, as these new technology-driven industries are called, have all contributed to one thing: they have all accelerated the inequality in the midst of great wealth, high salaries to the new generation knowledge workers.
There is also monopoly like situations in the economy, in the process of economic development.The free market economy model is in operation, though no political leader or economic expert openly says so. For fear of anatagonising the public opinion which is divided about the wisdom of the nature of the economic reforms. Even now, there are lots of disconnects in the Indian economy. The BJP, it is true, did its own part in triggering the economic boom. India shining slogan might have derailed the party but the Congress in its own way, at least under the PMO’s own stream is very claiming credit for the current Indian shining, be it the 9 pc growth or the various foreigners’ certificates to that effect.
Certainly, our economic development level hasn’t reached the developed country levels and there is widespread mass poverty and so our democracy can’t be really yet called a liberal democracy, though it should be out goal. Even here no one comes forward to define our polty’s model. Also, our economic reforms model, though it is now towards a free market economy, it is not yet in the freewheeling mode, as it is in the USA and elsewhere. The state plays a very strategic role and so the state has to play a strategic regulatory role in ensuring a more equitable economy and society.
It is here we see the failure of our present polity to reach out the stage where the people, the general public, the poor and the Dalits, women, the OBCs would feel confident about our larger goals. It is time we drop the word secularism and substitute it with multicultrualism, as in the West. The one difference is that in the West it is the immigrants who have to be integrated, here it is the minorities, who have to be integrated.
Let us be clear about one thing. The political agendas of the major political parties are the old throwbacks, the words and slogans are the same as they were under Nehru’s times.The economic agendas of the major political parties are again, a blatant borrowing from the old Congress agenda, except some additions of new phrases and worlds like globalisation and economic reforms, liberalisation, fiscal deficit and inflation and the rate of growth. Let us be clear. These are just words in day to day administration and not make up any grand vision or a foresight. If you ask specifically, what constitutes the core of the economic reforms, we are afraid, none in the present government, can openly and honestly touch their heart and say what it is! We must have to identify men and minds that would match the great men and minds of the days past, men like Naoroji, Ranade, Gokhale, R.C.Dutt and Gandhi and Nehru. We also need a total break from the past mindset.
We live in a new world of globalisation and the World Wide Web. IT and Internet had revolutionalised the world and the world economy. Jeffery Sachs says(The End of Poverty) the period between 1820 and 2000 had seen the gross world product by 50 times. Of course, the world had consumed large part of limited world resources, water and clean air, petroleum resources are used much in this period and also inequality in the world had risen dramatically, the gap(between UK and Africa) from 4:1 to now (between US and Africa to 20:1.
As for India, we need a new economic ideology, an entirely new economic agenda. Call this by any name but the old tags won’t do, tags like Parliamentary Democracy or Social Democracy. We need a more radical new agenda that must take note of the developments in the last half a century. We need an economic ideology that must have a strong social content, with Dalits, the OBC, the creamy layer coming centre stage in Indian politics and also the increasing violence, caste, Dalits and the “foreigners”(as in Assam) and also anti-minorities violence(as under the BJP dispensation and even now and all this call for new paradigms and new priorities. Our new democratic credentials must address the basic question of individual liberty under secular conditions. Social equalities under the new economic reforms agenda. So, too the many political legitimacy questions in the functioning of our democracy, the functioning of the various government agencies, the political party structures, the funding the large scale corruption and the urgent institutional mechanisms to ensure a fair governance mechanism. Political ideologies don’t come easily. Often, any new ideology also involves much upheavals, even violence and high price paid for the evolution of such ideologies. The last 150 years of European history is both a lesson and a warning!
We haven’t yet had an all-inclusive social and economic agenda. The poor are still left out of the economic paradigm shifts. There is social unrest among the socially excluded sections. Also, the political agendas are driven by very much insensitivity and a gross selfish political class that is indifferent to the society that is evolving. Are we becoming a more civilized society, a more humane society where we care for the high principles of individual responsibility and our social obligations? Readers have to find their own answers!
Also, the world can’t have too much room for revolutionaries and prophets! The new middle classes, let us hope, have too much of the good things of life to let new prophets upset the prevailing world order. Though the new world order also calls for a more active and balanced UN as an ultimate arbiter. India is emerging as a new economic power as well as a new hope for a more democratic social order and a beacon of hope for the most countries.