Manmohan Singh’s engagement with Washington!
The unintended consequences!
Manmohan Singh goes to Japan and China

Now, once again a trip to Washington’s on the agenda.

Perhaps, a last farewell to a friend who loves India and the Indian people love him so much, we mean George Bush!
The time is rather grim for the world. The international financial crisis is taking its toll on almost every country. As for India, the meltdown is particularly hurting. The US economic slowdown is finally catching up every sector in India, banking sector, stock market, civil aviation sector and particularly the mood in the IT sector is rather serious. There is a visible tension on the face of everyone engaged in the sector, from the IT companies to the thousands of employees. Reports in the daily press tell us how every young man and woman is spending sleepless nights expecting pink slips and they simply have to quit any day!

This is the mood and in this rather somber and a bit confused mood, only Dr.Manmohan Singh seems to be busy traveling.
He came back from Japan and China and now already preparations are on to fly out to Washington in the third week of November.
Of course a Prime Minister of any country has always a busy agenda and more so the Indian Prime Minister.

International meltdown and the 44-nation Asia-Europe summit meeting in Beijing saw the Indian Prime Minister in an expansive mood. That is as good as far as it goes. In our view it didn’t go much far.

Our Prime Minister quoted Lord Keynes’s 1930s tome, the General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. I found this rather amusing. I wonder whether he read the tome when he was at Cambridge as a student or at Oxford where he did his economic thesis. By the time I was there at Oxford where I used to run around Dr.Singh, a research student, Keynes’s theory was already out of date and we were asked to take the welfare state seriously. Dr.Singh’s own Oxford tutor and guide, I.M.D Little’s own text was our bible, the undergraduates.

The point is that no more government intervention in the working of the economies, both national and international, was becoming the norm and now to quote Keynes seems to be a bit pedantic and a bit irrelevant to the current crisis.

So, what the Asian-Europe summit suggested was nothing new or revolutionary and everybody blamed the American economy’s speculative fringe. Now, to call for IMF or the World Bank to do their work is also rather irrelevant. They would have intervened and since they don’t have the powers or the means they didn’t intervene.

What the American President George Bush did was the right thing, rather the inevitable response. May the Asian summit of 44 nations would have to co-operate with the USA and fall in line, so to say, to stem the further shakey nature of the international financial system.
As for the Indian economy, as the PM, says, it is inevitable that to some extent India too would be impacted for various reasons. One is the flight of capital. Second is the dependence of our economy, key sectors like the IT on the slowdown in the USA. There are other causes too.

Now, the point is what sort of economic growth India is promoting and who gains and who loses in such a meltdown?
It is here we have to take a hard look at the performance of the economy under the direction of Dr.Singh.

There is a feeling, rather growing feeling, that under Dr.Singh there are signs our economic growth priorities are dictated by the pressures and pulls of the emerging corporate interests. To such an extent that there are key ministers in the Cabinet, who seem to play the roles of brokers or lobbyists for particular corporate leaders. Civil aviation minister pleads for “bailout” for the civil aviation sector. Murali Deora for the Reliance and so on.

In fact, there is a perception that the senior bureaucrats are led to compromise with national interests to accommodate the American lobby interests, as unintended consequences of the Manmohan Singh government’s engagement with Washington over the civil nuclear agreement. This has led to certain weakening of the value system on which our whole edifice of the Indian political and economic and even the social system.

This is a vast subject and there is a need for many points of view.

The world is tired of the many ideologies of the past. Ideologies are better avoided. Not so many new ideas.
One such new idea and a new question is: how far India is maturing as a parliamentary democracy, a liberal and a more committed open society?

What is a liberal society? The very word “liberal” is suspected these days. It recalls the old, rather cold class society where the rich and the poor are recognised and even approved, though the individual liberty is rated high as a human aspiration and towards which the entire liberal social order is promoted.

But then the old liberal society is gone. Old liberalism is also gone. There were so many contradictions in the old prescriptions.
Now, there is the new fervor of the neo-liberalism in economics, free market capitalism as such.
But what is the free market economy or free market capitalism like in India?

No one would talk about this; no one would dare to open one’s mouth either. This is the dilemma or the new hypocrisys. Even the edit-page articles omit cleverly such dangerous words and instead they would rather deploy the various euphomisms, like pre-1991 economy or the post-1991-economy.Also, there is the mythology, I don’t know who promoted this mythology to the effect that it was Dr.Manmohan Singh who opened up the Indian economy. Once Narasimha Rao was asked about this. He, typically, dismissed such a formulation and simply said, as it was his characteristic: Dr.Manmohan Singh was my finance minister!

I think one should resist the temptation of distorting history for the sake a few privileges!
The point is that Dr.Singh is at best a career bureaucrat and he never claimed anything more than this role and as a Prime Minister he didn’t suddenly transformed into a crusader of any larger causes. Or, larger visions.

Hence his talks at any big or small meetings with the high and the low sound the same, dull and routine and suited to the occasion enumerations.

This is also the case when he met the American President and when he  came closer to the powerful person in the world ,the Indian Prime Minister, like most of us, the ordinary mortals, got excited and blurted out “President, Indian people really love you!”. Rightly such excited outburst was routinely condemned as out of place and not in keeping with the status of the Indians head of state and also according to simple ordinary protocol.

So, now what is the state of our polity and the economy?
Our polity is highly weakened. Our Parliament is not functioning in the true spirit and in accordance with the mandate. This year it had hardly met more than 40 days. The way the government avoided coming before the Parliament and seeking and clarifying the more complicated issues is deplorable.

So, in our view our Parliamentary Democracy is getting weakened and the high profile the Parliament’s functioning was in the past is now reduced to simple, almost meaningless and weekend ritual.

For this we have to put the PM in the dock. He is not an elected member of Parliament, so he can’t be forced to face any privilege motion, as happened recently and for which the Speaker had to face lot of criticism from the CPI (M) members.
The PM is not then playing to that original spirit and mandate of the makers of the Constitution.
Second, his Cabinet is not a cohesive body. Every minister of any consequence is playing his own cards and cultivating a niche for himself.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is in a highly unenviable position. He know this. His very tenure is uncertain. So, he had chosen the best route. To be abroad as much as possible and to avoid the domestic territory to Sonia Gandhi. After all it is she who would call the shots and in the meantime, let the Prime Minister hog the limelight away from domestic controversies.

In this rather short-sighted political environment, it is the polity that is weakened. One does not know whether Manmohan Singh, the very learned man he is, knows how much long his legacy, if it comes to it, would last once he is eased out by the party.
The Indian state is now a more weakened state and more emotionally and ideologically divided place. There are the new separatist forces, from MNS to the DMK’s own brinkmanship to the Gorkhaland demands.

There is no person around to weld the nation into a cohesive force.

Dr.Singh is not the sort of leader to do this rather tough job. And no nation, however small or big, can’t be held together, even in this day of great much strife in each and every country, without certain collective sharing of some vision or some set of beliefs.
A leader, by definition, is one who is driven by certain basic beliefs or belief systems or by some new way of articulating the collective fears and aspirations into a forward looking manner.
This is not being done in India. One doesn’t know whether this is being done in other countries. That is beside the point we want to make here.

Just now, I am reading through an old volume, very old indeed. It is a book by Harold Laski on the rise of European Liberalism, published long ago.

Yes, the world had changed almost beyond recognition since the book was written in the early part of the last century. Or, more importantly, the very doctrine of liberalism had undergone radical changes. To the extent of today the very jargon would be suspect, if used by anyone.

Today lot many such doctrines that once gave men and women of thought and reflection certain focus stand discredited. Words and concepts like Socialism, Communism and even Capitalism and of course Liberalism are all out of fashion. What is in fashion? No clear answer is available! That much is certain.

Even one loses one’s patience if one raises, as raised by some, questions like whether Obama, the US Presidential candidate, is a Socialist or not.

Americans are more sensitive such words and jargon use.
That is a positive sign of a mature democracy and a mature society.

Not in India. Here any misrepresentation of history or facts goes unchallenged!
So, we, meaning the average media or academic writers, simply bandy about liberalised economy, liberalisation of policies or economic liberalisation etc batting our eyelids.

But it is much more serio9us.I mean the need for some clear vision and some serious introspection and also some moral obligation on the part of a learned person like Dr.Manmohan Singh to do some introspection.

From what he says and does, it looks he takes his job as a task entrusted to him by Sonia Gandhi and even then Dr.Singh is duty-bound to do justice to his task.

The Indian state is now devoid of any such binding ideological ties. Ideas are not scanty but simply absent.
As I have been saying, India is a big country and India has lots of traditions and Indian National Congress is 123 years old.
I am not sure whether Sonia Gandhi or her deputy, the Prime Minister realise what this entire means.

What all these points signifies is that they, the duo, are duty-bound to adopt certain basic principles when they choose men and women for some top jobs. This, I am sorry to note, they have miserably failed to do.

That is why the Cabinet is so divided and even within the Congress party there is no collective sharing of the moral burden, if at all.
It is often said by a sycophantic press and advisers the Prime Minister is a man of integrity. This is simply not true or relevant. What a man is decided by what a man does. By this test, the Prime Minister and the Party President are the most compromised of the leaders in India.

They have almost abandoned the states where their own party has some presence. They are at the mercy of the regional parties and leaders who have all now dared to challenge the moral authority of the Central government.
There needs to be some tough decisions and show of moral authority on the part of these two leaders.
Indian democracy must be well-defined by some behavioural rules. Parliament must be activated, not reduced to some ritual as it is being done.

Non-performing ministers must be changed, if not reshuffled and even dropped. That would act as a tonic to other more conviction less self-promoters.

What is Indian polity’s basic vision? I am sure everyone would agree if I formulate like this: India now is being torn into ethnic strife of a new violent phase. But then India needs to be firmly anchored to some core vision. India should remain firmly committed to a Parliamentary democracy and the individual freedom would be the sheet anchor.

Ours will be a truly liberal society, an open society, a secular state and where multiple religions and ethnic minorities would be fully protected and the rule of law would take precedence over any other arbitrary politics or violent behaviour on the part of parties.
Absolute transparency in governance would be India’s pride.

Our international agenda and our foreign policy must be clear. There is nothing wrong to build strategic relationships with Washington. But the gestures on the part of our Prime Minister don’t seem to bring credit to India as a self-confident nation.
It is the lack of political legitimacy of a non-elected Prime Minister, a nominated Prime Minister who is also given to his past mental habits that dis-spirts the average Indian. That is a pity. But honesty demands that we realise this deficiency in our governance mechanism.

There is a huge agenda for the government. The world Bank and other international bodies have drawn up so many good governance practices.

Even Lok Pal is a top agenda.
But above all, India’s unity and integrity remains a critical issue.

India needs a natural leader, democratically elected and carrying legitimacy and conviction with the people of India.
Let us say this openly. Let us explain and articulate and educate the public that India has a vision and driven by a willingly committed shared values and belief system.

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