The PM stands a bereft orphan!
With major electoral defeats, what clarity little clarity we had is missing! The Congress Party faced two electoral defeats in Punjab and Uttaranchal. The third in UP surely looks like a foregone one. In such a dismal scenario, what articulations the Congress has? What major introspection has taken place?
The budget has come and soon forgotten. The Finance minister, as expected, seems to be one-track minded. He has no other themes except his growth mania. Not many seem to believe his words or allocations. There is too much PR and too much cosmetics. Of late he is on the defensive. Yes, he talks of growth, faster growth as the only solution to reduce poverty. But he or his colleagues have clues to agricultural regeneration. Is the FM right in his prognostication? No, he is totally offbeat. The PM and his deputy are sure to lead the party to a grand defeat, these type of men with no inner convictions whatever.
The long held view that the PM is an economic wizard lies shattered. There is the rising inflation, if not with the proven poor track record as an able economic manager. What new one bright idea he has given to the country since he took over as the PM? He is supposed to the veteran economist, has had a long innings in bureaucracy and supposed to have earned lots of praise, praise, if seriously researched, are of doubtful origins. He didn’t originate, for instance, the economic reforms in 1991. Already, under Chandrasekhar regime Dr.Singh was doing the duty of pledging our gold reserves in a London bank to tide over our foreign exchange crisis.
Even before that date, under Indira Gandhi’s last years the economy was ‘liberalized’ there were imports like color TVs for the Asian Games etc. Under Rajiv Gandhi there were more such ‘liberalizing’ measures. Under Rao, it was the very economic situation that acted as the real pressure points. And remember Rao’s famous remark:” Singh was my finance minister”. What did it convey? After all, it is the Prime Minister who takes the credit for any major policy initiatives and as such Rao deserves the credit.
Dr.Singh never had his own ideas whatever at any point of his service in the government. He was inducted into government service by the late P.N.Haksar, the old Communist-turned adviser to Indira Gandhi and the one who almost ruined the administrative culture and took it to ridiculous lengths. The “committed” judiciary and the committed administrator, including the willing subservient experts like Manmohan and P.N.Dhar served happily under Indira’s unreservedly authoritarian regime. So long it lasted, it was game for all. Once she fell from public grace, everyone distanced himself. The list of those who gave her wrong advice and who tried to mislead her is long and reads like a roll call of the guilty and the truly punishable.
Of course all this is in the past. There are of course some lessons always to be learnt from the past.
Economic growth is not so simple, as made out. It is a complex process; it is GDP, as much perceptions as economics. There can be growth and deprivation as well, as of now, it seems. What is growth of a skewed segment, when the vast majority has no stake? A policy maker must have practical experience or political grasp. The PM doesn’t have any nor his FM any better. The party doesn’t stand behind the PM nor does he share the emotional stress of those in the party.
In this sense, his days seem numbered. The earlier he goes the better for the party and the government. Voters have their own sense of timing and capacity for surprise.
Now, under Sonia Gandhi, there is this grim scenario of the party and the UPA likely to pass into history as the greatest losers, an inglorious exit seems writ large. The economy has grown well and there is much to take credit for. But we can’t forget the NDA’s short-lived glory as well. Vajpayee regime did give the economy a real push; the liberalization measures got lot of support, the infrastructure, more so the famous National Highways Authority did a very historic job, the present Uttaranchal Chief Minister. Khanduri earned a name for himself in pushing the NHA to achieve targets in time. The present speed is only a continuation of what the NDA regime did. So too the Indo-American nuclear deal. It is on record it is the NDA that started the friendship with the USA and Clinton’s visit marked the clear departure from the past.
As for economic growth too, we have to give credit for the India shining campaign launched by the previous regime. Now, there is the lurking fear in the establishment that any such complacency might surely hurt the regime in the forthcoming next General elections. Otherwise, the party was toying with the idea of an India poised campaign but developed cold feet in the light of the past experience. So, there is some degree of confusion at the AICC, the party brain trust as such is almost frozen except, Sonia loyalists like to play favorites, Ajit Jogi attacks FM, not to get any light but to pick up some scoring points. PM doesn’t feel comfortable after the defeats in Punjab and Uttaranchal, so he too has come to adopt a low key articulation.
How to combat inflation? That is now a million dollar questions. To which neither the PM the economist nor the FM the articulator extraordinary have any clear answers. Agriculture proved their blind spot and so neither of the two have neither clear belief nor a clear answer as far as accelerating the growth in that crucial sector.
Agriculture always doesn’t sit easy in Delhi environment. That is why the best brains and the most self-activated sensitive souls, the experts and do-gooders and the activists of many hues pick up holes in the social sector budget allocations. Yes, we know, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) has proved its worth, also it limitations. Yes, in one district in Rajasthan, 100% was spent, in other districts, only 30% spent. So, this budget didn’t increase the budget for the scheme in another 200 districts. The new allocation remains unchanged. Is this a budget at all, asks an expert? This just over Rs. 10,000 crores? Social sectors? You can pick your own priorities!
There is talk of some anti-corruption clauses in the NREGA etc! Now, talking of corruption, the Supreme Court judge has said in an exasperating tone:” let us hang the corrupt in the nearby lamp post”!
Yes, Manmohan Singh looks or stands like a bereft orphan in the current scenario where Ottavio Quattrochi stands trial for the Bofors. The PM’s image as a clean man takes a beating, though the country doesn’t yet say so. The PM and the MEA stand exposed for their silence and now for their less than transparent behavior in seeking extradition with the speed that matches their demeanor, their words and action. It is a rather sad plight in which the country finds itself, given the political scenario and our international standing. As for agriculture, it is time to seek for some drastic policy changes and strategies. Imports of essential items of mass consumption to curb inflation can be understandable.
But given the economic momentum we are now entering into, it will be extremely challenging to intervene in the economic forces to give agriculture certain centrality in the economic policy making. For one thing, the government has to intervene decisively to put in place certain safeguards for the farmers. We need to have the contract farming law to ensure there is no exploitation of the disorganized farmers, into big, medium and small by the MNCs and the indigenous corporate houses by dictating terms. Farmers should not end up producing crops and vegetables or food articles or pulses for a loss. There must be price stabilization funds, price support measures, minimum guarantee prices for major crops of high commercial values, as there is now for sugarcane and even rice and wheat.
Our farmers must be enabled to produce the major crops. We have to remain a self-reliant and largely self-sufficient economy in some of our traditional major food crops. That had been our major agricultural policy. There would be immense pressure from the USA and others under the WTO to give up our advantages for the sake of seeking help from the USA in several areas.
That is why there is a palpable fear in the minds of many about the hush-hush nature of the Indo-American Agribusiness council. So, the PM’s articulations must clarify where India stands. Let us import by all means to stabilize our prices and control inflation. But by all means don’t undermine our agriculture economy’s hard earned stability and its inherent strengths.
This is the task resting on the shoulders of the PM and Sonia Gandhi. The rest is all about the details, as they say!