What India needs is a critical core agenda!
On the day when the just installed Manmohan Singh govt. was faced with its first crisis, when Mr. Karunanidhi of the DMK threatened to walk out over portfolio allocation, I bought two old books in an antiquarian bookshop. One, Hugh Gaitskell, 1906-1963. Two, Anthony Crosland’s Socialism. Now, what an irony, I thought, just as I walked out of the bookshop. Why?
Here are two books that constituted my political education, when I was an undergraduate in Oxford of the late Fifties and early Sixties. The books were not then published but the two central figures of these books were my Socialist heroes. That’s what I wanted to convey.
Yes, the second half of the 20th century was a century of Communism and Socialism. I was a Fabian Socialist, very much like what Nehru believed in and what was propagated in UK by a host of brilliant writers and intellectuals like Kingsley Martin’s NewStatesman and Fabian intellectuals, among whom many of the second generation were still alive. But then the Soviet Russian Communism was very much alive, under Krushchev and that was one reason why I chose to return to India via Russia of Krushchev. Even after witnessing Kurushchev’s Russia and meeting the prominent dissident families living inside and outside Russia I was not convinced of Communist propaganda.
My question is : Is the new government old wine, is the new Common Minimum Programme a new bottle?
There are two streams of thought. Everyone talks of economic reforms. Opening up of the economy is old wine. The new wine is what you do with the voters’ clear verdict? Reforms in the areas and sectors where the poor, the rural India, agriculture, education, health, etc., matter most. Singh talks approvingly of “economic reforms with a human face”. If MKs, DMK’s behaviour, the public display of immature mind, is any indication, then the new government functionaries are all out for the grab of ‘loaves and fishes’ of office. It seems clearly even for others like Laloo, Paswan and other allies.
The complete bankruptcy of the Communists is clear by their refusal to take office. What Communists have come to? They are honestly more confused than ever! They ofcourse don’t talk of Russia anymore. They vaguely talk of China but dont spele out their priorities, except pleading for retaining PSUs. I asked : if this all to new wine or old wine, new bottle or old bottle. With these humdrum thoughts I glanced through the two volumes I bought. Gaitskell, the Labour leader of a rare kind, quite unlike the present ‘fascist’ Blair! Gaitskell was my own New College man, I used to run across him in my Oxford college quad whenever he stayed there. We used to encounter each other on our way to the breakfast table in the very historic New College “Hall”.
Gaitskell was a Socialist. He was an “unprofessional politician, a man of real intellectual distinction and great strength of character, no devious strategems to success”, “through him our faith was strengthened in the non-doctrinaire socialist tradition of conscience”. “He took the cynicism out of the conduct of politics”. Can we say the same thing for any of our politicians today?
Anythony Crosland is another great intellectual who made the British Labour party’s great ideals and traditions. Crosland is happily is still with us and I closely follow every act of his even these days. He has authored many books on Socialism and updated his ideas with every new developments in the world. In this particular book I find once again all the great issues the Socialists have always grappled with. A rapid reading of the contents: Socialism in a Dangerous world, A Socialist Democratic Britain, Labour and Populism, Labour Housing Policy, the case for Municipalization, Protecting the Environment, Comprehensive Education, Pluralismin Higher Education, Resources for Education, Monopolies and Mergers, Government and Industry. The British Socialists, the old Labour always interested themselves in decentralised power, war-free world, disarmament etc. Education, minorities, the weaker sections, equality of women, individual freedoms and above all a parliamentary democratic government, transparent government etc. would be part of any democratic socialist’s agenda.
Now, what is the economic reforms Singh and co are talking about? Where, their policy for poor, rural and agri sectors come in? How they would generate jobs? Where? In urban India or rural India? Much more challenging for me is the political reforms. Why no one talks about these critical issues? So many politicians facing criminal charges are now in the government! Corruption is a major issue. Poverty cant be tackled unless you have transparent government. Election funding, the large sums spent on TV advertising, the Congress spent Rs. 93 crores, the BJP Rs. 137 crores. Where these funds came from? What is the attitude towards monopoly capitalism, capitalists?
The second major paradigm shift India demands is the critical core agenda. What is it? There is simply talk and no policy agenda talk.
The goals have everything you want to implement in India. Reforms with a human face? What is it? Singh must spell it out. We spele it here. It cant be other than reforms must measure up in the World Human Development Index. How, after say five years, the new government would reduce the ranking India has at present? Education for all, girl child’s education, gender parity in education, infant mortality, people below poverty line, insurance for the poor, farmers, wealth. Per capita incomes, per capita food availability etc., would demand a high degree of attention. You can’t have a democracy, a transparent government unless you have an effective CBI, Lok Ayuktha and Lok Pal.